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MSU Profiles

MSU and its alumni answer STEM education mandate

"Our future as a state and nation depends on the rigor of science, technology, engineering and mathematics - or STEM - education in our public schools," said Bill Gates, then North Dakota University system chancellor, in 2010. "By advancing STEM education, we build a better future for citizens and a stronger economy for our state. We are very fortunate that the 2009 Legislative Assembly had the foresight to provide the State Board of Higher Education $1.5 million for enhancement of STEM teacher education."

Minot State University, as one of six NDUS schools with teacher education programs, used funds appropriated by the North Dakota Legislature to work with North Dakota K-12 teachers. MSU not only assisted educators teaching the various STEM topics but also assisted in integrating two or more topic areas as much as possible. Several of those educators are MSU alumni. They have been involved with several STEM regional K-12 outreach projects with support from the Minot State STEM initiative.

Three MSU alumnae combated the long-standing barriers and perceptions that caused girls to turn away from science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Melissa (Richard) Stanley '84/ '86), Edison Elementary School teacher, and Sue (Spain)Kjos'73 and Margaret (Talbot) Spain'72/'02, retired elementary teachers, started the first STEM for Girls in Minot, and it's catching on like wildfire.

"It was suggested we open an after-school STEM program for eighth and ninth grade girls," Kjos said. "But we said 'No, no, no ... we need to reach these girls sooner. By eighth and ninth grade, they are so involved in other activities, and we need to get them interested now!'"

The women sent out invitations to girls in the fourth through seventh grade classes, hoping to get a dozen who would like to work after school. Surprisingly, 32 girls wanted to take part. The first year, the girls studied electricity, astronomy and chemistry and solved varying design challenges. Since that time, STEM for Girls has grown to 50 girls in grades four through seven.

Many of the girls, after having outgrown the program, have returned to take on leadership roles. The girls have formed a board which leads the group. The agreed-upon purpose of STEM for Girls is "To learn and to help others learn so girls understand that they are smart and can chase down their dreams."

"The group has established norms for group performance," Stanley said. "The areas of study are based on the girls' input so they can investigation topics of interest. So far this year, the girls hosted a pumpkin design challenge, utilizing Littlebit Technology, and they have an upcoming physical therapy opportunity hosted by Minot's First Choice Physical Therapy. Plans for additional activities are in the works to complete a yearlong calendar of events."

Ackerman-Estvold, a Minot professional civil engineering and architectural consulting firm, generously sponsors the girls' program costs.

JoAnn (Magandy) Schapp '86 is another STEM-involved alumna. She teaches at Bishop Ryan Catholic School and advises Schapp's Science Club for grades three to eight on Tuesday afternoons.

"We have explored The Great Ketchup Caper, Steamy Metals, Goofy Putty and Seltzer Reaction Rates," Schapp explained. "In my science classes, we do National Incident Management System activities such as Happiness is a Straight Line, where students determine how height affects the speed of a marble. In Whirly Gig, they create helicopter blades to give them the longest hang time as well as accurately land on a cereal box. In Beetle Races, they trace the path of a beetle and calculate the beetle's speed. Then, they write a story telling about the beetle's journey."

The Minot State STEM initiative didn't just trigger work with K-12 students.

"When students are doing course work in any science, technology, engineering or mathematics class, they are doing STEM," stated Stephen Hayton, computer science associate professor and MSU STEM initiative program director. "So that means our MSU chemistry, biology, mathematics and technology majors are doing STEM. Also, science and mathematics education majors are too."

STEM is considered the integration of two or more specific topics of the four STEM areas of study. This integration will be beneficial for future educators.

"I want them (student teachers) to know that today's world is so rich with opportunity, and children growing up today are truly globally connected," Stanley concluded. "So to deepen knowledge and help children retain content, teachers have to build connections. STEM does that for them; it helps teachers marry content. They can work on science, math or writing and truly integrate content at a level that is authentic. It is purposeful. It is the world."