Baylor Professors Attend Roundtable Discussion On Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

Feb. 14, 2006

Two Baylor University professors recently joined more than 20 local, state and federal officials to discuss ways to get more kids interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The roundtable discussion, held in Waco and led by Department of Education Assistant Secretary Tom Luce, focused on the importance of a STEM education.

For years, the number of college graduates with a STEM background has been declining. In fact, America's share of the world's science and engineering doctorates is predicted to fall to just 15 percent by 2010, while the jobs requiring STEM training will increase 24 percent by 2014, according to the U.S Department of Education.

"We as a nation are losing our competitive edge and we're getting into real trouble," said Dr. Truell Hyde, a Baylor physicist who attended the discussion. "We're about to have a huge baby-boomer retirement and many of them are in the science and engineering field. We don't have enough people to replace that group."

Hyde said one of the discussion topics focused on the need to completely overhaul the primary education system to get children as early as kindergarten interested in STEM. One of the problems facing educators is exactly how to approach and teach STEM to a new generation of youth that may not learn the same way that has worked in the past. Hyde, who is also Baylor's vice provost for research, believes educators need to focus on relevancy. He said educators need to better relate how math and science affect real-life things.

"Children are always asking "why", but somewhere down the line that curiosity gets lost." Hyde said. "We've got to show them how the writing on the board relates to what they hold in their hands."

Dr. Trena Wilkerson, a Baylor education associate professor who also attended the discussion, said while showing relevancy is essential to get children interested in STEM, educators also need to reach more students. Wilkerson leads several programs that bring middle-school aged children to Baylor and other area colleges to show them the potential and importance of a STEM education. Wilkerson said it is crucial to get kids at the middle-school age interested in STEM because many are beginning to decide their career path.

"We've found that the interest level and attitudes about math and science generally increased," Wilkerson said on the success of the programs. "It opens their eyes to the possibilities."

It is programs like these that Wilkerson and Hyde hope will become more widespread.

"The fact that we have federal officials talking about this issue is a good first step, but now we need to start taking action," Hyde said.

Media contact: Frank Raczkiewicz, (254) 710-1964

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