UA faculty members Bruce Johnson and William McCallum each have been named interim co-directors of the UA STEM Learning Center. The two are working with members of a steering committee to develop the center's infrastructure with plans for a formal opening later this year.
"We have an incredible number of things happening across campus with regard for STEM education, as we have for years, but sometimes we don't know what other people are doing," said Johnson, who heads the teaching, learning and sociocultural studies department in the College of Education.
"It is also important because people want access, whether it be a school, an informal education program or a member of the public," Johnson added. "But people do not always know where to go. This will lead people."
McCallum, head of the UA mathematics department, said another priority has been to unite three different campus circles: those engaged in STEM education and teacher training; those highly involved in community outreach like UA Science: Flandrau and Biosphere 2; and also individuals engaged in undergraduate research, involved with the likes of BIO5 Institute, among others.
The center also is about stronger engagement with community and industry partners.
"If you combined those energies, it's not just about combining, but also about seeing connections," McCallum said. "If you have more coordination between efforts, then you have the power to do so much more."
One example: The UA mathematics department has just received a U.S. Department of Education grant for its interdisciplinary Center for Recruitment and Retention that will focus on expanding the pool of graduates teaching math.
Focusing on STEM in a more actively engaged way, then, is an important move, especially as expanding such fields remain national and state-level priorities.
Just last month, Gov. Jan Brewer along with other education leaders announced the state's participation in "Real World Design Challenge." The initiative, which involves public and private partners, is designed to improve STEM education at the high school level, involving students in a nationwide competition.
"Many reports have recently come out showing that we need more workers with expertise in STEM fields," said McCallum, who initiated the UA Institute for Mathematics Education.
"The need for technical and mathematical sophistication is creeping into most sectors of the workforce," he added.
Also, the U.S. Department of Education and other federal agencies have urged a focus on STEM fields for the benefit of national security, competitiveness and public health. At the same time, agencies and organization have called for the improved diversification of STEM fields, especially with regard to women and people of color.
The expectation, then, is that the establishment of such a center at the UA could not only lead to better communication, but also the benefit of additional grants, new initiatives and expanded community outreach.
"There are STEM activities around the state and also locally," said Elliott Cheu, the UA College of Science's associate dean and a steering committee member. "We're trying to create a nice synergy."