Sneak Peek: Take a Listen to Laura Nelson’s Interview

This episode is sponsored by Halliburton. Listen to the full episode.

Laura Nelson is the Coordinator of Science Education for Portsmouth Public Schools. In this podcast, she shares:

  • Her extensive career in STEM.
  • Obtaining a 5 million gift for STEM education.
  • Creating innovative outlets for elementary students.

To support STEMcast Podcast:

The Diploma to College to Career Mismatch

Written By:  Reagan Flowers, PhD

It appears that minority students are less likely to enroll in college, remain in college, and are more likely to go directly to work post high school.  Factors impacting their choices to attend college are finances, access to opportunities, awareness, proper preparation, supportive networks, and exposure.  And for many minorities enrolled in college, they are first generation.

According to NCES, minority students are obtaining their high-school diplomas with completion rates in the U.S. for Hispanic’s being 76.3% and 72.5% for Black students. However, nationally these percentages are not representative of the number of minority students enrolling in colleges, 17% Hispanic and 14% Black.

The mismatch in the numbers does cause one to wonder how this has come to be.  I wonder if today’s high school graduates have determined that they will yield less of a return on their investment in a college degree if it is not in a STEM field.  Additionally, I wonder if high school graduates see more of an income advantage in forgoing a college degree and going directly to work in a blue-collar STEM field.  Looking further into gender numbers, there are more females enrolling in college than males.  The low enrollment numbers of males in college suggests that they experience more pressure to earn wages right after high school as opposed to females. The practicality of forgoing college long-term, in most instances, is not good. Such decisions create economic gaps and stagnation.

A growing trend are student success programs that colleges are putting in place to increase minority student enrollment and completion rates.  There are designated institutions such as HBCUs, MSIs, and HSIs that are intentionally and thoughtfully creating environments to improve their overall numbers.  And, there are groups such as AHSIEHBCU Faculty Development Network, and PennGSE Center for Minority Serving Institutions that are sharing best practices to help move the needle.

A recent presentation of C-STEMs research on minorities and females attitudes towards STEM education and careers at an AHSIE conference was fairly consistent with common themes being expressed by colleges from across the U.S.  We are not short on problems to solve, are working to eliminate the mismatches, and are increasingly using technology to identify and trigger responses to student academic and social challenges, sooner rather than later.

Problem-Solvers are in High Demand

Engineers are in high demand throughout the world. From biomedical engineers to nuclear engineers. These careers require innovative creative thinkers to solve problems that we have throughout the world. They require higher levels of knowledge in math and science. We need to motivate our students to seek careers that are in high demand by encouraging them early on and doing so as they matriculate through the Pre K-12th grade trajectory to higher education. Their experiences in school need to be relevant, fun, innovative, balanced, exploratory, and interactive. Mostly, they must understand the importance of what they learn and how the information they have can be applied in the world. Children are naturally curious, so why not provide them the tools they need to expound on their natural curiosity. Everything starts from a single idea that you build on with intended outcomes. In many cases, a single idea yields dividends that would not have otherwise availed themselves, had you not taken action. Children are our future and they depend on us to prepare them to answer questions of the unknown and unforeseeable future.

Unable to Serve

I recently received an email that caused me to look at the education system from a different perspective. As a country we are failing to give our students the education that they need and deserve to stay competitive in the world.

There are three main expectations that the military has for someone to join. To be educated, physically fit, and have no criminal history. The first is one of the biggest reasons as to why people are unable to serve in the military. One out of four Americans do not have a high school diploma and even with a high school diploma some still lack the academic skills needed to join the military. The solution is for students to start receiving quality education as early as possible. They must be empowered with good information and have access to opportunities that provides them with competitive skills. Prekindergarten is a very important place to begin strengthening children’s cognitive skills. Studies show that students that start with a quality Pre K education have higher rates of high school graduation and lower rates of crime. I understand that children need hands on experiences early on in their education to engage them and keep them on track. C-STEM provides programs and activities that are hands-on, require critical thinking, problem-solving, and application of knowledge and skills as early as Pre K. We need to focus on what is best for our children as early as possible to prepare them to successfully navigate the maze of life’s journey. To be quite honest, we cannot start to early with educating our children, which means neonatal education is the best place to begin with ensuring that a child’s future is bright and full of promise.

The Reach for Higher Education

The great equalizer is ‘higher education’. It is well known that not everyone will obtain a college degree. Today, higher education whether a degree or certificate program, is required to take advantage of the tremendous work opportunities that currently exist or that are projected to be available in the not so distant future. C-STEM emphasizes the importance of education because it helps students develop critical thinking skills, unleash their creativity, and figure out what they are passionate about in life. It is important for educators to encourage students to embrace the journey of knowledge expansion. More than ever before, I am witnessing low skills jobs requiring increased technology, communication, and literacy skills which in some cases are not cultivated sufficiently during high school thus requiring post high school training. Studies show that the median income of a recent college graduate is $17,000 more than the median income of a high school graduate. Unfortunately, the gap continues to grow larger and is the reason First Lady Michelle Obama is pushing her new campaign “Reach Higher.” Her new movement emphasizes on getting more people to pursue an education past high school, whether it be professional training, community college, or a four-year university degree. The First Lady’s initiative combined with many others such as the work UNCF and C-STEM is doing, will increase the number of students considering and seizing opportunities that are available post high school through higher education.

Flipped Instruction 3.0

For many years C-STEM teachers have been utilizing online courses and resources to enrich STEM learning in their classrooms. Many have adopted this format to maximize classroom time with students and have provided students the framework and platform to maximize their out of class time to remain on track with school work and to get ahead with course work. I have found as well as many of the teachers I work with, that online courses supports the integration of relevant material to connect classroom learning to the real world. A relatively new find for me are the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) list that are free through different websites. Colleges and universities share their classes with these websites, and that is how the information of the courses are shared. An example of a course that is provided through the MOOC list is a Calculus course offered by the University of Michigan that is offered at no charge through Coursera (one of the websites that offer this courses). The online course allows teachers to have their students establish accounts and follow the curriculum throughout the semester. This is a great opportunity for educators to become more creative in the classroom because of the extra time they can build into the instructional day to reinforce concepts, engage students in project based learning to support application of their knowledge and skills as well as assess student proficiency beyond paper tests and quizzes. I have also found that MOOC lists are great for parents and mentors who are working on improving their child/children skill-sets in literacy and STEM content areas.

In the UK, the Department of Education published a report in June on how they could implement this type of medium into their classrooms. The study suggests that in the future, MOOC’s will not replace classroom teachers; however, they will become a staple used in classrooms around the world.