Professors Collaborate on STEM Pedagogy Research Project

By ANDREW JENNER | December 15th, 2016


Eastern Mennonite University students Enock Samalenge (left) and Dirk Oyer work with Professor Esther Tian on a project in Tian’s “Introduction to Engineering and Design” course. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

IN A 2014 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN BLOG POST, Dr. Kenneth Gibbs Jr. writes that “the large and persistent under-representation of certain social groups from the enterprise represents the loss of talent” and concluded that “diversity leads to better problem-solving, expands the talent pool and is important for long-term economic growth.”

For those who share that view, the good news is that students enrolling in university science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs are increasingly diverse. At the same time, a poor retention rate among this group is prompting STEM educators to explore different ways to better meet the needs of a changing student body.

EMU is no exception. Over the next three years, the university will work to improve its retention rate of minority students in STEM programs, using a recently awarded $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to improve instructional techniques in the classroom and laboratory.

“[These students] often have to adapt to an academic culture and a university culture that their parents couldn’t introduce them to, and on top of that, the STEM culture. It’s like going to a foreign country three times over,” said Stephen Cessna, professor of biochemistry.

In addition to STEM faculty, EMU’s education department and the multicultural services office will also participate. The grant includes faculty trainings on bias and teaching methods, a mentoring program for STEM faculty, and improvement of a peer tutoring program for minority and first-generation college students in STEM majors. EMU will share its findings and conclusions with STEM departments of other universities experiencing similar enrollment trends and challenges.