Responding to the need to enhance the region economically by developing future prospects for engineering- and science-related industry, The University of Texas at Tyler is forming the Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Center, UT Tyler President Rodney H. Mabry announced.
UT Tyler was awarded a $1.2 million T-STEM federal grant in April to create the East Texas STEM Center.
Dr. James Nelson, UT Tyler College of Engineering and Computer Science dean, and Dr. Michael Odell, UT Tyler Celia and Sam Roosth Endowed Chair, serve as co-principal investigators for the grant project, which will focus on improving STEM education and encourage more individuals to go into the STEM fields, which is critical to the national goal of remaining technologically competitive in this global society.
“Competitiveness is very critical,” Nelson said. “It’s a national need which Texas is addressing the best it can. We want East Texas to grow economically. We need engineering and science-based businesses. If we create more opportunities here, our kids will stay here.”
T-STEM, a $71 million federal program designed to improve instruction and academic performance in science- and math-related subjects at Texas high schools, is implemented through the Texas High School Project, a multi-million dollar public-private initiative committed to increasing graduation and college enrollment rates in Texas communities.
Nelson said UT Tyler’s endeavor will combine the efforts of area partners, including school districts, higher-education institutions, businesses and other entities, to promote and increase STEM professions in East Texas. Currently, East Texas STEM includes more than 30 partners.
As a requirement, all STEM centers operate in collaboration that must include at least five partners.
“We have a real desire to work with rural school districts, other universities and other entities and businesses,” Odell said. “It’s a wonderful collaboration. So far I’ve been very encouraged. Everybody benefits.”
Under its three-year plan, the center will assist districts, particularly those needs in high school science and mathematics, to better prepare students for college and entry into T-STEM fields such as computer science, mathematics and engineering.
“The kids in the rural areas are just as talented in the kids in the urban areas,” Nelson added. “They need the opportunities of STEM education and exposure, too. If they aren’t exposed to it, they won’t have a desire to even consider going into those types of fields.”
East Texas STEM will complement the efforts of the existing T-STEM centers such as El Centro del Futuro, Transformation 2013, North Texas STEM, Texas Tech STEM and El Paso STEM, along with another recently funded future center at UT Medical Branch at Galveston.
“Unlike most centers, we’re going to have what’s called a ‘distributed’ center,” Odell said. “We’ll have a main site here in Tyler, but we will also have access sites across the region.”
“Another unique feature of this center is that it is a collaboration across the two major university systems. People in the A&M System will work with the UT System,” he added.
For the first year, the focus will be on identifying local districts needs through the use of surveys and other assessment tools. “We will also be vertically aligning curriculum so that high schools and colleges are teaching content in a strategic fashion.”
“We’re going to see if we can get everyone on the same page, so there will be no gaps in the curriculum so a student is prepared for college,” Odell said. “Our goal is to use surveys and assessments in year one to identify gaps and needs at all levels of education.
“In year two, based on our needs, we will look at areas of weaknesses based on the data collected in year one and developing action plans to improve the system. We also will be collecting important data that can be useful to other rural areas beyond the East Texas region. In year three, we will focus our attention on moving schools to the next level and really focus on strategies to help students be better problem solvers. ”
For more information, contact Nelson, 903.566.7267, email@example.com or Odell, 903.566.7149, firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the 15 campuses of the UT System, UT Tyler offers excellence in teaching, research, artistic performance and community service. More than 70 undergraduate and graduate degrees are available at UT Tyler, which has an enrollment of nearly 6,000 high-ability students at its campuses in Tyler, Longview and Palestine.