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Exploring the roots of STEM education

CMU’s STEM Education Scholars gain hands-on experience

Contact: Dan Digmann

​​​​​​​​​To better prepare the next generation of scientists, Central Michigan University's STEM Education Scholar students are getting hands-on with STEM. The students plan, program and host several events throughout the year, each with a focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics – or STEM – topics.

CMU's STEM scholars are a cohort of 11 teacher education students. The group of freshman and sophomore students works closely with faculty to discuss new technology and plan programming around emerging trends in science education. They share many of the same classes, and most of them also live in the same residence hall in close proximity.

"These CMU students have many more opportunities to work directly with children than a typical education student," Julie Cunningham, STEM education program coordinator, said. "In addition to schoolwork, they are involved in outreach programs, workshops and career-building activities."

The STEM Scholars host events for community children throughout the year, including a monthly after-school program at a Mount Pleasant elementary school. Freshman Sara Fisk, a teacher education math major and physics minor, has always liked math and aspires to come up with new and exciting ways to present ideas to children who may not like the subject at first.

She says the best part of gaining hands-on experience is working with children when they experience an "aha" moment.

"It's rewarding for me when these children make something tangible," the Big Rapids native said. "They get so excited about what they can do with their own hands. It changes how they feel about the subject when they succeed."

Zeeland freshman Simon Fiske sees the scholars program as an advantage for employability after graduation. The integrated science major and math minor wants to work with secondary education students so he can teach more in-depth science concepts, and he is already gaining experience teaching and building a network of peers.

LEGO photo gallery

"I like to introduce new ideas or new technology into a class," Fiske said. "Young minds are fascinating; they look at things in ways I've never even thought of before."

Students in the program will help mentor incoming scholars as the program becomes larger. Cunningham says that professional growth and ability to work comfortably with children are important parts of developing a future teacher.

"Part of the strength in this program is due to the fact that students are surrounded by peers with similar goals and interests," Cunningham said. "They learn this strong core of STEM subjects and also get to build all the professional skills that go along with teaching."

Cunningham works with faculty in the College of Science and Engineering and with external groups, such as 100 Girls of Code, to create partnerships for future programs. The cohort of students have hosted seven events so far this year, and on a recent Saturday in Mount Pleasant they hosted a LEGO We Do Robotics Workshop for nearly 40 elementary students.​

"For this particular program we used LEGO's because they're fun, and also because using computer coding to make the robots move solidifies kids' learning experiences," Cunningham said.​

The STEM Education Scholars are currently accepting applications for the fall 2016 semester. The opportunity includes a tuition stipend, enrollment in CMU's flagship leadership camp Leadership Safari, membership in a national math or science association, and attendance at a national science, math or STEM conference. Find more information at CMU's Center for Excellence in STEM Education.​

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