By embracing the natural interconnectedness of the STEM fields, it's possible that we can encourage a more diverse population of students to pursue STEM careers.
Emily Dare, former 3M fellow
Friday, April 10, 2015

3M STEM Fellows

3M STEM Fellows

Combining hands-on training for STEM Education graduate students with learning in local K-12 classrooms

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are expected to grow 17 percent by 2018, creating jobs that will need to be filled. National policy has recently pushed to improve and expand K-12 STEM education, recognizing STEM's major role in economic growth and stability and in ensuring a competitive workforce.

Minnesota has improved standards in K-12 STEM education, but implementing new curriculum in classrooms calls for teacher support. The 3M STEM Fellows program both helps local teachers implement new state science standards and allows University of Minnesota STEM Education PhD students to conduct research and prepare for their future careers as teacher educators. 

Supporting STEM Reform in Schools

Since 2008, 3M has funded graduate students to conduct engaged scholarship at local 3M-funded schools. "The 3M STEM Fellows were funded to bring their classroom knowledge and graduate school coursework related to STEM integration into schools to support reform in STEM," says Gillian Roehrig, principal investigator for the program and Curriculum & Instruction professor. Currently, two students are working to improve mathematics learning in South Washington County schools and two students support science initiatives in St. Paul and North St. Paul.

3M is a long-time partner of St. Paul Public Schools and a strong supporter of STEM education. "We are investing in the next generation of leaders," says Meredith Crosby, 3Mgives strategic initiatives director. "The 3M Fellows provide a unique opportunity for University of Minnesota students to receive hands-on training while providing an invaluable resource in the classroom."

STEM Fellows impact school programs in a variety of ways, such as shaping curriculum to state standards, developing supplemental material, and reviewing Project-Lead-the-Way curriculum. "I have been impressed with the caliber and diversity of the students and their excitement to learn while they are teaching," Crosby says. Research that fellows conduct at schools, often with teachers, are presented at national conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals.

Professional Learning for K-12 Teachers

Working alongside teachers and students, 3M Fellows support STEM teaching and encourage students to understand concepts through enriching learning experiences. Fellows collaborate with teachers to engage students in authentic engineering design activities to nurture students' learning and interest in STEM. In summer 2014, ninth-grade science teachers from North St. Paul-Oakdale-Maplewood worked with 3M fellows at the UMN St. Anthony Falls Laboratory's Outdoor StreamLab.

"This professional learning allowed our teachers to understand and develop lessons around the physical, biological, and chemical mechanisms of stream processes and their response to natural and human disturbances," says Sharon Burrell, curriculum & staff development coordinator for the school district. The teachers developed two engineering modules on dam removal and wind farms for their classrooms, creating science lessons based on real environmental processes.  

"The 3M Fellows program has been a significant resource," Burrell says. The program guided the district in implementing an elementary STEM program and providing professional learning to K-5 teachers after state science standards changed in 2009. "The 3M Fellows provided research in best practices in science education and provided professional learning for all 180 elementary science educators [that] supported inquiry-based instruction," says Marta Stoeckel, ninth-grade grade science teacher at Tartan High School.

A Valuable Experience for UMN Fellows

The fellowship prepares graduate students both as STEM education researchers and for their careers as teacher educators after college, which involve preparing future teachers and supporting current teachers.  After graduating, most 3M fellows become faculty at various colleges and universities. Former 3M fellow Emily Dare, who's currently finishing her dissertation, was recently invited to be assistant professor of STEM education at Michigan Technological University. 

Micah Stohlmann, a former 3M STEM fellow, is now an assistant professor of mathematics/STEM education at the University of Nevada. As a fellow, Stohlmann helped four STEM Education teachers implement new Project Lead the Way curriculum and published his first two journal articles about integrated STEM education. "I was able to gain invaluable research experience and grow in my knowledge of effective practices for STEM education," he says.

Working with teachers and schools is key to STEM Education students' professional development. "School-based internships are critical to supporting learning for our PhD students," says Roehrig, who provides support and mentorship to the PhD students throughout the program. 3M fellows conduct in-school research, publish, teach, and engage students in STEM reform. They also gain experience in school partnerships, engaging students in STEM reform and conducting in-school research.

For Dare, the biggest takeaway from the fellowship was learning how to partner with schools, a skill she plans to apply when she develops her own partnerships with teachers and schools. She collaborated with grades 4-12 on physics and physical science topics and worked closely with teachers to write an integrated curriculum for fifth-grade students, which is now published in a practioner's journal. "It was, and still is, important to me that my work at the research level is accessible to those who really matter -- the teachers," she says.

 Encouraging Diversity

Dare studies the impact of STEM on middle-school girls' attitudes toward physics. Her research on the intersection of gender and physics was inspired from her own experiences and from immersion in classrooms as a 3M fellow, where she noticed fewer girls excited about science and physics. "Physics is a STEM field that is highly underrepresented by women," she says. "My goal is to understand how instructional strategies may influence how girls, and boys, perceive science and science careers."

The 3M program recognizes the importance of recruiting women and people of color into STEM education. "One of our goals is to show engineering as a caring profession that is not just about building bridges and planes," Roehrig says. Dare says it's important to demonstrate the usefulness of STEM concepts and to integrate disciplines, such as science and math. "By embracing the natural interconnectedness of the STEM fields, it's possible that we can encourage a more diverse population of students to pursue STEM careers," she says.

– Lyra Fontaine