RE 'TEMPER the STEM emphasis' (Shawn Day Sunday Forum column, Sept. 22): This column about job prospects for STEM graduates and desirable workplace skills propagated several misconceptions.
The headline implied incorrectly that students earning degrees in science, technology, engineering and math are deficient in critical-thinking skills compared with graduates who earn other degrees. STEM graduates are problem-solvers, and critical thinking is at the very heart of all such disciplines.
The idea that, as the column says, 'job-specific skills can be learned at work,' also is profoundly wrong. Just because a new hire can 'think critically' in one field does not mean that he or she should be trained from scratch to work in a STEM field. Would you want such a trainee to work as a chemist in the lab that determines whether your drinking water is safe, or to work as a geologist to determine whether a new hospital site is located on an active fault line?
Students in every discipline learn to think critically about a particular body of knowledge, and I know from experience that our STEM graduates at Old Dominion University, for example, work hard throughout their college careers practicing doing just that.
The column fails to point out that there is a critical need for STEM graduates who are prepared to be educators. For many decades, science and education faculty members at ODU have worked together to prepare many students with STEM degrees to be highly qualified math or science teachers, most of whom are still working across the nation in high schools and middle schools. The attrition rate for teachers exceeds the graduation rate, however, so many more STEM teachers are needed nationwide than colleges now produce.
MonarchTeach, a new program at ODU, is designed specifically to allow STEM college majors to 'try out teaching' and see whether they want to consider being STEM school teachers. Eventually, the program will retain larger numbers of these students by providing scholarships and internships and by supporting them with mentors during their first years in the classroom.
Seed money from the state is funding the project for a few years, but like its sister UTeach programs at 34 other universities nationwide, MonarchTeach will need continuing support from benefactors across the region to prosper. MonarchTeach made a great start this summer by recruiting more than 50 incoming students for its inaugural class this fall, and it is on track to at least triple the number of highly qualified STEM teachers graduating from ODU within five years.