A collaboration between the California State University, Fullerton Colleges of Education, Engineering and Computer Sciences and the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics has netted a grant worth more than $1 million to teach and promote STEM and entrepreneurship to middle school students. According to CSUF News, the project is titled “Strategies: Science, Technology and Engineering Mini-Business Incubator” and its goal is to “[integrate] STEM study and entrepreneurship training to engage seventh- and eighth-graders, said Jidong Huang, associate professor of electrical engineering, who will direct the project. The project also will train science and mathematics teachers [on how] to integrate engineering and computer science concepts and practices in their classrooms.”
With funding from the National Science Foundation the central goal of this CSUF project is the promotion of STEM- and entrepreneurship-related curricula. The CSUF contingent of science, education and entrepreneurship professors are well on their way towards researching and designing an innovative after-school program for approximately 160 seventh and eighth grade students in the Anaheim area. This program will focus on science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), lean startup and other entrepreneurial principles.
Led by Dr. Jidong Huang, an electrical engineering professor, the group of CSUF professors responsible for this project include: Dr. Amy Cox-Petersen from the College of Education, Dr. Pradeep Nair from Computer Engineering, and John Bradley Jackson, Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and professor of Entrepreneurship. Dr. Diane Donnelly-Toscano will also make major contributions to this project as the representative from the Anaheim Union High School District.
But why is this important? You have probably heard why STEM education is important but it’s edifying nonetheless to hear what the National Science Foundation has to say about STEM’s importance, which follows:
A well-prepared, innovative science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce is crucial to the Nation’s health and economy. Indeed, recent policy actions and reports have drawn attention to the opportunities and challenges inherent in increasing the number of highly qualified STEM graduates, including STEM teachers. Priorities include educating students to be leaders and innovators in emerging and rapidly changing STEM fields as well as educating a scientifically literate populace; both of these priorities depend on the nature and quality of the undergraduate education experience. In addressing these STEM challenges and priorities, the National Science Foundation invests in research-based and research-generating approaches to understanding STEM learning; to designing, testing, and studying curricular change; to wide dissemination and implementation of best practices; and to broadening participation of individuals and institutions in STEM fields. The goals of these investments include: increasing student retention in STEM, to prepare students well to participate in science for tomorrow, and to improve students’ STEM learning outcomes.
Cal State Fullerton is the perfect school to be undertaking a task such as this. While definitely not mandatory, teams in our CSUF Business Plan Competition tend to do better in the competition when there is a STEM-related component to the business idea. For example, with the goal of helping spinal surgeons reduce mistakes, White Light Medical won the last CSUF Business Plan Competition and Synova Life Sciences, a company that is helping people with stem cell therapies, won the 2013 CSUF Business Plan Competition.
It has been a treat getting to watch teams like those, and many others, work with professors from diverse backgrounds. Beyond the CSUF Business Plan Competition, we have at least one class that I know of that bridges the imaginary divide between science and business and that is BUAD 570. This class is populated by students pursuing their Biotechnology Masters Degree and the class is about the formation of a business based on a technology that they have devised. What is really amazing about BUAD 570 is that by the end of the semester many of the students finally realize that they, too, can realistically run their own business; it’s a great feeling.
With the rise of “geek” chic and the prominence of tech entrepreneurs in pop culture you would think that this would translate into more students taking a greater interest in the sciences and end up pursuing careers in STEM-related fields. While there is some evidence to the contrary most of the findings point towards there being too few qualified candidates for STEM-specific job openings.
That is why programs like the one that CSUF is about to embark on are so important; maybe this CSUF program will convince a portion of the 160 students who will participate in it to become a scientist, engineer, entrepreneur or a teacher.
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