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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math to be examined

By Natalie Broda and Web Editor

STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are getting a check up for the University’s strategic plan. Last year, provost Gerard Voland assembled a task force to pick apart these departments. He expects a report at the end of this year with a list of recommendations STEM. But the staff and faculty don’t want to go it alone.

This Wednesday and Thursday in Michigan Room B, an open forum will take place to get the opinion of campus. The task force will be presenting their findings from the past year.

“We’ve spoken to two universities similar in size about their STEM programs,” Associate Professor of Organic Chemistry Jessica Tischler said. “We’ve surveyed our faculty about resources and our vision. This open forum is the next step.”

Tischler’s office is on what they call the “wet” side of Murchie Science Building (MSB) because it’s where the wet labs are located. It’s the side that will see most of the renovations set to take place next year. Completely by coincidence, the strategic planning process and the reconstruction of MSB should wrap up around the same time. Tischler agrees it’s pretty good timing.

Some of the very general ideas for feedback the committee is looking for are possible new academic programs, how to retain students, support faculty and of course the overall structure of the unit.

“All of these things are equally important. All of these things are a key piece of making a strong STEM unit. Currently we have things going on in each, but it isn’t coordinated. Hopefully campus can make some recommendations,” Tischler said.

Mehrdad Simkani is a professor of mathematics and believes this forum will be a good opportunity for everyone to understand the challenges of the multiple departments.

“Nationally, there is a gap between the expected and the needed number of college graduates in STEM fields. To meet the demand of the future economy we need to increase the retention and the number of STEM majors. This is a national agendum, and should interest everyone,” Simkani said via email.

One of the common threads between the computer science and chemistry departments is the want for more new faculty or faculty resources. While the renovations may supply the latter, the first is an issue of budget. What doesn’t cost more money is planning, and that’s what co-chair of the task force Stephen Turner says there’s a potential for.

“We could create new programs and I think faculty are open to that. But it all goes back to resources,” Turner said.

So far, no one says they’ve found anything too surprising. Turner says he was somewhat surprised to find out how much information STEM had on potential students. He believes it’s a good sign for both recruitment and retention.

“We’re just helping to illuminate better information on what we already know. We proceed with the underlying intention to makes things better for the students,” Turner said.

The task force will hand over their recommendations by the end of the semester.

The open forums will take place in Michigan Room B: Wed. Feb. 27 at 11 a.m. and Thurs. Feb. 28 at 1:30 p.m.

Natalie can be reached at

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