College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

UM Launches Effort to Become Regional Leader in STEM Education

October 16, 2011

The University of Mississippi has launched an aggressive initiative to increase the number of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, aka STEM, in the state.

The Innovations in STEM Education Initiative includes scholarship support, greater emphasis on scientific literacy across disciplines and expanded facilities for teaching and research.

Alice M. Clark, UM vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, will direct the new effort. The announcement follows a year of planning, supported by a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the conclusion that the university is positioned to become a regional leader in STEM education.

“The University of Mississippi has had a long-standing commitment to STEM education and research, and has established a strong foundation for future innovations in STEM education,” Clark said. “In the coming years, the University of Mississippi will be at the forefront of STEM education, answering critical national needs.”

The Innovations in STEM Education Initiative aims to substantially increase the number of STEM professionals educated in the state, thereby fulfilling critical national needs to sustain economic development and competitiveness, quality of life, homeland security and leadership in solving global problems related to energy, health and the environment.“An important component of this initiative will be to identify and implement the most effective methods to prepare K-12 teachers to nurture scientific curiosity at an early age and instill the math and science foundations students need to pursue STEM degrees and careers,” Provost Morris Stocks said.

A chief focus of the initiative will be to increase access to STEM education through undergraduate and graduate scholarships for first-generation college students and traditionally underrepresented groups in STEM, including minorities, women and persons with disabilities. UM STEM graduates will enter the workforce with a well-rounded education – the hallmark of a traditional Ole Miss experience – prepared to lead and work on diverse, interdisciplinary STEM teams, Stocks said.

“The university has recently earned national acclaim for its exceptional record of providing educational opportunities for groups that are underrepresented in STEM professions,” he said. “By providing these opportunities, the university has achieved a minority STEM doctoral degree completion rate that is much higher than the national average and, in one recent year, was responsible for graduating one-third of the nation’s African-American Ph.D.s in mathematical sciences.”

In addition to preparing scientists and engineers, the initiative will focus on providing every UM undergraduate student, regardless of major, with a greater understanding of science- and technology-related issues that affect every citizen, Chancellor Dan Jones said.

“American students face a rapidly changing job climate and global competition,” Jones said. “Now more than ever, skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are essential to giving students the broadest range of career opportunities.

“In the coming years, Mississippi will need more nurses, physicians, dentists, engineers, pharmacists and other STEM professionals, and we will all benefit from having a more scientifically literate public.”

“The urgent need for enhanced STEM education and more STEM professionals has been recognized not only by the university, where this effort has strong synergy with the new UM2020 Strategic Plan, but also within the Blueprint Mississippi 2011 workforce development goals and recommendations”, he said.

As a key part of the Innovations in STEM Education Initiative – and to accommodate record growth in undergraduate enrollment, exploding demand for STEM courses and a commitment to increasing graduate enrollment – the university plans to enhance and expand facilities in its science complex, a row of 10 buildings extending west from Coulter Hall to just southwest of the Lyceum.

An immediate priority is an expansion of Coulter Hall to accommodate growth in chemistry research and education programs, Stocks said. A long-range goal is the construction of a new science education and outreach facility, which will be designed to foster collaboration and innovation among faculty and students across STEM disciplines and to enhance public awareness of the importance of science in everyday life.

“The University of Mississippi is uniquely positioned to be a major player in cultivating STEM professionals and citizens who will contribute to the future, by attracting talented, diverse students to its campus and providing them with state-of-the-art STEM resources, programs and experiences,” said David Heil, president of David Heil & Associates, a consulting firm assisting the university with its Innovations in STEM Education Initiative planning.

The planning for the initiative is based on work supported by NASA under award No. NNX10AJ19G. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

For more information on the Innovations in STEM Education Initiative, contact the office of the vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs at 662-915-7583 or go to http://www.research.olemiss.edu/.