Sharing the Love of STEM

karinaWritten by Karina Herrera, CSU STEM VISTA 2014-2015

For the past two months I have immersed myself into the world of research; research on undergraduate research and internships. This has mostly consisted of a pile too high of printed papers, tables, graphs (and did I mention tables?), substantial underlining, highlighting, and an AmeriCorps*VISTA reading out loud to herself. Conclusion: the numbers paint a bleak picture. At a young age, U.S. children start to lose their global competitiveness in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

  • In college, half of freshmen intending to study STEM, at some point either leave the field or drop out of college.
  • Of those who do earn a degree in STEM, few of those are first-generation students, students of color, and women.
  • Women earn less than 20% of engineering bachelor’s degrees.
  • One hundred percent one-year retention rate of Native Americans means the two Native Americans majoring in STEM at a college were still majoring in STEM a year later.

Colleges and universities are seeing high STEM attrition rates and low STEM retention rates, meaning students are changing out of STEM majors or dropping out of college completely. The solution to this problem lies both at the university setting and at the K-12 setting.

As a CSU STEM VISTA at Fresno State, my aim is to help retain students in math and science fields through their involvement in research and internships. Hence, all that research on undergraduate involvement in research and internships. Slowly, I’ve been familiarizing myself with the programs already in place, and I have been amazed at how many opportunities are available to students interested in teaching science and math. Coming from a large research university myself, I was very much surrounded by a research culture. All of my professors were heavily invested in their research, several classmates were research assistants to these aforementioned professors, and there was a universal appreciation for research and academia. While several of my classmates were interested in education, , administration, or public policy, these interests were largely sustained through extra-curricular activities and the occasional undergraduate course; tangentially related to education rather than through solid university support.

A good foundation of math and science is critical for those who major in STEM and  building that foundation starts at a young age with K-12 teachers who are knowledgeable and passionate about STEM and can help inspire the next generation of STEM professionals. I am serving in Fresno State’s Science and Mathematics Education Center where I have discovered three programs that provide opportunities for undergraduates to combine their passion for STEM, research, and education:

  • The Natural Sciences Program – A degree program for Fresno State undergraduate students who plan to become high school science teachers.
  • Early Field Experience – A yearlong paid internship where Fresno State undergraduate students shadow local math and science teachers, interact with students, and develop their own lesson plans.
  • STAR Teacher Researcher– A summer research internship for aspiring K-12 STEM teachers, during which participants do STEM research at a national laboratory or research university and learn how to integrate their research into K-12 STEM lesson plans. While this internship opportunity is facilitated by Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo’s Center for Excellence in STEM Education, all CSU students are eligible to apply.

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These programs are bringing STEM-passionate undergraduates into the world of K-12 education. Research, internships, and K-12 education do not have to be exclusive experiences and interests. Science and mathematics are amazing. Scientists and mathematicians are capable of achieving amazing, innovative, jaw-dropping creations. And while not every child will decide science or math is what rocks their socks off, STEM is given a fighting chance when it is taught by a teacher who recognizes and appreciates the value of STEM.

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