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1. What is STEM education and why is it one of the fastest growing fields in higher education?

The acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) was introduced in the early 2000’s by the National Science Foundation in an effort to bring greater attention to the education shortfall in the United States in these subject areas.  STEM education can refer to either the four separate STEM disciplines or to an integration of the skills associated with these fields into one aggregate STEM discipline.   In the last six years, President Obama has launched multiple initiatives, including Race to the Top and the “Educate to Innovate” campaign, to promote STEM education in order to meet the current and future employment needs of STEM occupations in the United States.  In the next decade, STEM jobs are expected to experience sustained growth upwards of 20%, as compared to the non-STEM job expected growth of approximately 10%.  In addition, graduates from STEM disciplines can expect to make approximately 25% more than those who graduate from non-STEM disciplines.  Number like these tend to get students’ (and parents’) attention, and have led to increased enrollments and program offerings in STEM disciplines in Higher Education.

Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D.

Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D.

2. Which STEM disciplines does Post University offer to on campus and online students?

Currently, Post offers 18 undergraduate program options in STEM in disciplines ranging from Computer Information Systems, Management, Environmental Science and more. In addition, we offer 2 certificates and 7 minors in STEM disciplines, as well as pre-health and pre-vet tracks. A complete list of STEM programs is available on the university’s website.

Post defined its STEM disciplines based on the lists of STEM fields provided by two government sites: the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  The NSF list includes disciplines that are easily defined as science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.  The DHS may seem a surprising source for a STEM discipline list, especially since the DHS list includes more peripheral STEM disciplines, such as pharmacology, science education, sustainable development, military technology, and psychology. DHS maintains a broader STEM discipline list than NSF because it is used to attract bright, international students to study in the US and remain in the country, thereby putting their education to work for the US.  International students who graduate with degrees in STEM disciplines are permitted to remain in the US for a longer period of time after graduation than those with degrees in non-STEM disciplines (OPT-STEM extension).

3. Can you tell us about Post’s STEM Across the Curriculum initiative and how the university plans to incorporate the foundations of STEM into each student’s learning?

Post’s STEM Across the Curriculum initiative is designed to ensure that all of our students, regardless of their chosen major, have STEM education integrated into their degree program.  In each bachelor’s degree at Post, 12 credits of the total coursework are comprised of required general education courses in STEM disciplines—this means that a minimum of 10% of a student’s coursework at Post is in STEM.  In addition, foundational principles of STEM education are represented in five of the 12 general education student learning outcomes: Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking, Scientific Literacy, Scientific and Quantitative Reasoning, and Technological Fluency.  These outcomes are not only addressed in the student’s general education courses, but are also reinforced, expanded upon, and assessed throughout the student’s upper level coursework.  By assessing these STEM-based general education outcomes at the exit-level (300- and 400-level courses) of each program, we can confirm that students in all of our programs are learning, retaining and applying critical STEM principles throughout their education.

4. Why is it so important for students entering the workforce to have training in or exposure to STEM disciplines, regardless of their chosen degree programs?

Graduates with STEM degrees are often the top candidates for non-STEM jobs, even though they may not have the subject matter expertise required for the position.  Employers know that graduates with a STEM degree bring to the table the foundational skillset associated with STEM that cannot always be taught on the job.  STEM graduates have been trained to think critically, to question and innovate, and to approach a problem logically and systematically.  In addition, technology has infiltrated many non-STEM jobs, so the ability to properly utilize this technology has become an expectation for these positions.  A student studying in a non-STEM discipline will benefit greatly from exposure to STEM courses and principles in order to increase their proficiency in the STEM-based skillset that employers are seeking.  This is exactly where Post’s STEM Across the Curriculum initiative is based.

5. How is Post planning to grow its STEM initiative moving forward?

We have many short-term and long-term proposals in place to develop and further enhance the STEM initiative at Post.  Two of our short-term projects that we are looking at now are the development of a STEM Badge and the development of a pre-engineering track.  The STEM Badge can be earned by students in non-STEM degree programs who take additional, specified coursework in STEM disciplines.  The pre-engineering track would align well with our current pre-health and pre-vet track models.  Similar to these other tracks, the pre-engineering track would include 8-10 courses that have been identified as pre-requisite courses for acceptance of a non-engineering major to a graduate program in Engineering. Our long-term plans include incorporating additional STEM disciplines into our degree offerings and partnering with regional engineering schools.

 

Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D., is the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Post University. Dr. Johnson earned her Bachelor’s degree in Earth and Environmental Science from Lehigh University, and her Ph.D. and Masters in Plant and Soil Sciences from University of Massachusetts, Amherst.