How Can We Stoke The Fire For STEM?

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Educators at two of the state's largest universities are working to get to the root of what drives interest in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

A team of Indiana University researchers has received $150,000 from Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG) to fund research into the role "making" plays in building STEM interest among young students. Purdue University College of Engineering Dean Leah Jamieson is part of a roundtable discussion about increasing STEM involvement of women, girls and underrepresented groups Thursday at the White House.

The so-called "maker movement" involves activities ranging from building, tinkering and taking things apart to creating spaces with machinery and equipment allowing entrepreneurs to create for themselves. IU says past research indicates many scientists, mathematicians and engineers report making-related activities played a part in fostering their early interest in STEM. 

Indiana University Associate Professor of Science Education Adam Maltese and Associate Professor of Learning Sciences Kylie Peppler's efforts will seek out a better understanding of what stimulates and maintains interest in STEM throughout life. They'll conduct surveys with various groups including STEM professionals, a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults and Google Science Fair participants.

Maltese says "there's a general belief that building and tinkering are keys to developing an investigative mindset. We think providing those opportunities can get or keep more kids interested in STEM. We're trying to do groundwork to see how that is likely to play itself out." He expects the findings to eventually be used for journal articles, presentations and reports.

The White House Council on Women and Girls panel discussion, which will include Jamieson, will feature higher education leaders for throughout the country sharing "best practices" for STEM education inclusion and career-readiness programs. In 1969, the Purdue College of Engineering's Women in Engineering Program was launched. It includes mentoring and career development and is considered the first program of its kind in the U.S. Purdue says it awards the fourth-most degrees to female graduates in engineering fields and the most degrees to female graduates in engineering technology in the country.

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