In addition to focusing on new facilities and methods of educating
students in STEM fields, universities must also ask, "Who will be
learning in buildings like this?" said David Asai, a featured speaker at
the symposium. Asai, senior director of undergraduate and graduate
science education programs at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, urged
institutions of higher education to think in new ways to retain STEM
students, particularly members of underrepresented minority groups.
"Diversity is really good for science," he said, as the increasingly
complex problems in research demand more varied perspectives to solve
them. The good news is that the U.S. population is becoming more and
more diverse, Asai said, but the bad news is that America is failing to
take advantage of this talent pool.
African American and Latino students enter college with a rate of
interest in STEM disciplines that is similar to the freshman population
as a whole. But five years later, some have not yet graduated and some
have dropped out of school, but the majority have changed to a non-STEM
major, leaving only one in five of those who started out in STEM to
graduate in that area.
Universities must do better, Asai said. He encouraged faculty members
to take responsibility for keeping their students in STEM by setting
high expectations and offering minority students the same opportunities
as their peers, as well as listening to their students' views and
concerns about diversity.
He also suggested replacing the often-used model of a "pipeline" that
takes students directly from high school through college and doctoral
studies without interruption. Instead, he used the metaphor of a
watershed, in which students come to college to study STEM from a
variety of backgrounds — community colleges, the workforce and the
military, for example.
Other speakers at the symposium were Jeanne Narum, founding director
of Project Kaleidoscope and founding principal of Learning Spaces
Collaboratory, which encourage the design and development of an
intellectual, physical and organizational infrastructure that supports
strong learning in STEM fields; Louis Gross, director of the National
Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, who also was
involved in the National Academy of Sciences Bio2010 report,
"Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists";
and Jay Labov, senior adviser for education and communications for the
National Research Council, who has been the study director for numerous
reports on improving teaching in STEM fields.
Those attending the event also had the opportunity to tour the
building and visit locations where students, faculty and preceptors
demonstrated the kinds of instruction and research happening in ISE Lab.
The building, which opened for classes this semester, was formally dedicated on Oct. 17.