University of Wisconsin Stout | Wisconsin's Polytechnic University
As an engineer and manager of engineering employee development for Rolls-Royce, the jet engine-maker from Indianapolis, Reginald McGregor works with students from middle schools to universities.
Rolls-Royce, for example, spends $300,000 a year funding programs in middle and high schools, mostly around Indianapolis but also nationally.
Why? “We want to get students interested early in STEM fields,” McGregor said. “STEM is exciting, so let’s bring it to life. Why does that airplane stay in the sky?”
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Someday, those young students might end up working for Rolls-Royce, which employs 4,000 people in Indianapolis, including 1,300 engineers.
The big picture behind the push for STEM education is to help raise the standard of life in the U.S. and keep the country globally competitive, McGregor said. “It’s not math and science — it’s about helping your fellow American.”
McGregor spoke Tuesday at the second American Society for Quality STEM Agenda Conference at University of Wisconsin-Stout. The first conference in 2011 also was at UW-Stout.
About 120 people attended from around the U.S., along with one person from Japan and one from Australia. The conference theme was Advancing the STEM Agenda in Education, the Workplace and Society.
McGregor spoke during a panel discussion on the importance of industry-school partnerships. The other panelists were Jeff Asproth, a supply chain manager for 3M who recruits UW-Stout graduates; Amy Lane, UW-Stout Career Services director; and Fernando Padró, director of educational leadership at Cambridge (Mass.) College.
Lane talked about UW-Stout’s emphasis on experiential learning. The university’s co-operative education program partners with 500 to 600 employers in 30 to 35 states and in one foreign country. Nearly 900 students participated last year.
Many students work 40 hours a week during their co-ops but are considered full-time students because they set learning goals and receive class credit. “Students can really focus on that one experience,” Lane said.
Industry partnerships, including advisory boards, with education can play a pivotal role in preparing students for careers, Padró said. A co-op or internship helps students learn process skills and apply content they’re learning in the classroom. At Grand Valley State University in Michigan, engineering students are required to do an internship, according to panel moderator Paul Plotkowski, engineering dean there.
Jeffrey Froyd, a research professor at Texas A&M who presented Monday at the conference, said most schools fall short in teaching students process skills, such as critical thinking. They provide plenty of content but little education in the area of problem-solving skills. More emphasis on teaching process skills “represents the future of STEM education,” Froyd said.
Froyd cited a study by one school district that didn’t teach any math until seventh grade but instead focused on teaching process skills through sixth grade. By eighth grade, those students had caught up to others their age in math because of their excellent process skills, he said.
Examining STEM education is important because “we need more people in the STEM fields. There’s not enough focus on STEM areas consistent with where we need to be, to be globally competitive,” Froyd said.
One of the conference organizers and presenters was Julie Furst-Bowe, who recently left UW-Stout as provost to become chancellor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Presenters also included about 20 UW-Stout faculty.
UW-Stout Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen welcomed attendees Tuesday morning, the second and final day of the conference. He noted that the site of the gathering, Jarvis Hall, recently renovated and expanded, represents UW-Stout’s commitment to STEM education. UW-Stout’s STEM College is based in Jarvis Hall.
“We made a very big commitment to STEM education a number of years ago. Clearly STEM education is one of the futures of this society, this state and this economy, so I’m glad we can host this conference,” Sorensen said.