Today’s Students...Tomorrow’s Technology Leaders
STEM Center Promotes Careers in Science, Math
A brand new center established through
research funding at UT Tyler is working to fill
a great need that not only impacts today’s
students, but also tomorrow’s economy.
In 2007, UT Tyler was awarded a $1.2 million
federal grant to create the East Texas Science,
Technology, Engineering and Math Center.
STEM focuses on preparing high school
students for engineering- and science-related
industries through research, professional
development, curriculum development and
“When you look at the statistics, you see a
declining number of students entering the
STEM fields, yet employment opportunities
continue to grow. This is a trend we need to
turn around,” said Dr. James Nelson, UT
Tyler College of Engineering and Computer
Science dean. “We are in danger of losing
our technical competitive edge globally.”
Dr. Nelson and Dr. Michael Odell, UT Tyler
Celia and Sam Roosth Endowed Chair, are
co-principal investigators for the STEM
Dr. Odell said, “Internationally, we used to
dominate math and science across the globe.
Not anymore. We have to rethink how we do
things. (Through STEM) we are creating a
seamless educational pipeline that prepares a
competitive science and engineering workforce.”
This effort is critical for our own community
and for our economic future, said Dr.
Nelson. “There is nothing we do today that
is not affected by science and technology—
from starting your car to scanning your
groceries. But to satisfy our technological
needs and maintain a competitive edge, we
need to attract more young people in the
Meeting a Need
The center is one of seven in the state
established through a multimillion dollar
initiative to improve instruction and performance
in science- and math-related
subjects. The STEM Center serves four
educational regions in East and Southeast Texas.
Dr. Odell said, “For the 252 school districts
that we potentially serve, the goal is to get
more people interested in STEM careers.”
He said there are three main objectives:
- Align high school and college curriculum.
“We want to focus on grades 10-14 and
eventually middle school, looking at the
correlation between high school courses and
advanced college. How are we preparing
students? Is there an overlap? A gap?
Is the issue content or how we teach it?
Are we all on the same page? We want to
treat K-14 as a system rather than as separate
entities,” Dr. Odell said.
- Offer materials and programs that assist
teachers. “In many ways, East Texas students
lag behind the rest of the state because the
rural districts don’t always have the courses
and resources needed,” Dr. Odell said.
Dr. Nelson said by providing teachers with
tools and resources, they can better facilitate
learning and “do the job they want to do.”
- Create programs for youth in East Texas
that keep them interested, such as camps,
NASA’s summer balloon program and more.
The programs are primarily focused on
preparing rural students for STEM careers.
“The kids in the rural areas are just as talented
as those in urban areas,’’ said Dr. Nelson.
“If they are not exposed to it, they won’t have
a desire to even consider going into those
types of fields. We want to expose them to
the fields and opportunities in junior high
and prepare them with courses in high
school. If it looks exciting, they will pursue
The effort is a collaboration of area partners,
including school districts, higher-education
institutions, businesses and other entities to
promote STEM professions in East Texas.
Currently, East Texas STEM includes more
than 40 partners.
Dr. Odell said there is also an on-campus
collaboration among four colleges, including
Arts and Sciences, Business and
Technology, Engineering and Computer
Science and Education and Psychology.
“We are working as a community,” Dr.
Nelson said. “It is not higher education
reforming secondary education. It is everybody
across the educational community,
including businesses working to provide
resources and meet needs. We are recognizing
that we are all tied together in this.”
One of those partners is DonnaWise, K-12
science specialist with Region VII Education
“There is a shortage of science and math
graduates,’’Wise said. “Kids perceive (science
and math) to be a lot of work without a lot of
payoff. They are not aware of all the opportunity.
We want kids to enroll in college, but
they have to get excited in high school.
They can’t do that until teachers are excited,
involved and trained.’’
Partnering with the STEM Center will help
in that goal.
“So many of the schools in Region VII have
only a single science teacher and maybe one
or two math teachers,” she said. “Who do
they talk to? Who do they get help from?
Now they can evaluate their effectiveness.
They can borrow and check out resources by
picking up the phone.”
Wise said the Region VII Service Center
works directly with teachers to provide training
that is not only academically current, but
also moves them in the direction they need to
be for the future. She said, “Most of the kids
in high school today will have jobs that don’t
even exist yet because of the changing
Hitting the Ground Running
Dr. Odell said the collaborative effort of
STEM is making progress. The center plans
to offer advanced courses online for students
and will launch the first online earth science
course for teachers this spring. In the fall, staff
and regional partners began working on a
Survey of Enacted Curriculum, originally
developed by the University of Wisconsin.
“We are modifying it for use in Texas to help
teachers understand the alignment between
tests and teaching,” Dr. Odell said. “It’s
not about teaching tests, but covering the
necessary topics and working with teachers
on getting the curriculum aligned for better
results. It’s a good tool for teachers, both in
high school and college.”
Already, the center hosted an International
Globe Conference and began advanced
training of more than 100 teachers from
across the region in different areas of math
“We are trying to teach math in a different
style or strategy,” Dr. John Lamb, UT Tyler
math professor and recipient of the Texas
Regional Collaborative grant for math,
said. “We are using the “Five E” model —
engage, explore concepts, explain, elaborate,
In October, about 30 K-12 teachers from
Tyler Independent School District, Palestine
ISD and private and nonprofit schools began
participating in a mix of conferences, live
workshops and online courses focused on
The program will culminate in a summer
institute, during which the teachers will
present what they implemented throughout
the year to other teachers from the region.
“Our overall goal is to improve instruction,”
Dr. Lamb said.
Dr. Nelson said the center will continue to
impact students as a sustainable program
with future grants and funding. “We will
keep it going as long as we can because
technology won’t stand still.
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