A $5 million grant from The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation will fund an Alma College initiative that will address the national demand for more graduates trained in STEM fields.
The initiative, titled “e-STEM: Enhancing STEM Education and Practice,“ will provide new opportunities for students and faculty at both Alma College and K-12 schools to collaborate and engage in real-world research and learning in the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.
“The nationwide shortage of STEM undergraduates is well documented,” says John Davis, principal investigator and the Charles A. Dana Professor of Integrative Physiology and Health Science at Alma College. “Because approximately 20 percent of all jobs require a high level of STEM knowledge, experts predict that an additional one million STEM graduates will be needed over the next decade.
“For many reasons, K-12 schools and higher education haven’t been able to prepare students in STEM fields at the rate of need, and the need is tremendous,” says Davis. “Michigan especially feels the pressure; surveys estimate that by 2018 Michigan will have up to 275,000 STEM jobs, ranking 10th nationally.”
The goal of e-STEM is to get more students excited about science through laboratory and field experiences that are tied to local issues and have personal meaning, says Alma College President Jeff Abernathy.
“I am deeply grateful to The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation for its support of sciences at Alma College through the years,” says Abernathy. “Alma’s historic strength in STEM disciplines is a credit to the foundation and its vision for science education in Michigan and beyond across six decades.
“The e-STEM program will build on the important work our scientists have been doing in recent years with National Science Foundation funding and will enable even deeper connections between Alma College and schools across Michigan,” says Abernathy.
Alma’s program will build on the success of its current PRISM Program, funded in 2009 by a $500,000 NSF grant, which engages incoming science students with hands-on, college-level research experiences. Since the launch of PRISM, the number of STEM majors at Alma College has increased from 175 in 2008 to 262 in 2013.
“Our mutual goal of increasing capacity in STEM disciplines through relevant, hands-on learning for K-12 and college students compelled our trustees to provide additional support to Alma College,” says Macauley (Mike) Whiting Jr., president of The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation. “Our grant will help them build upon their past success in delivering high quality STEM programming.”
The e-STEM initiative has four components:
• The creation of the Dow Digital Science Center (DDSC), a physical structure within Alma’s existing Dow Science Center that will be a place for the collection and storage of data and remote sensing instrumentation. Linking data from remote sensors to the DDSC will immerse high school and college students and faculty in STEM research, says Davis.
“For example, we can put sensors on animals to track their movements or in a river to monitor its ph balance and temperature,” says Davis. “High school teachers and students can use the DDSC for a variety of learning projects. The grant provides funding to high schools to purchase equipment to interface with the DDSC.”
• The sponsorship of summer science camps that engage K-12 students with age-appropriate science experiences. The camps will feature side-by-side research with Alma College faculty as well as time to design DDSC projects for K-12 schools.
• Support for K-12 Science Olympiad competition. Alma will offer workshops that help parents, students and teachers prepare for Science Olympiad competitions.
• Opportunities to work with community, education and industry leaders to develop STEM projects that address local and regional problems.
The grant provides $1.25 million for start-up costs and the first two years of operation and $3.75 million in funds to establish an endowment for future support.
The project is under the direction of Davis; David Clark, Charles A. Dana Professor of Biology; Karen Ball, professor of Integrative Physiology and Health Science; Tim Keeton, associate professor of biology; Mark Seals, professor of education (science); and Murray Borrello, instructor of geology and environmental science.
The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation in Midland has funded numerous Alma College projects over the years, including the Dow Science Building (1957-59), the Dow Science Renovation (1998-94), the Kresge Science Endowment (1999-2002) and the Center for Responsible Leadership (2008-2010).