The Notre Dame extended Research Community (NDeRC) is finishing up its fourth year. In that time the people in the program and those who have been involved with the program have accomplished so many great things. After-school activities, enhanced curriculum, hands-on science activities, and guest visits from research graduate students. All of these contributions have enhanced student learning and, hopefully, encouraged every student to see science and mathematics in a new light. But one of the biggest accomplishments of NDeRC in these four years is spreading the NDeRC name, and, for the long run, spreading the Michiana STEM name.
Michiana, the state of Indiana, and the U.S.A. as a whole are all facing serious challenges in K-12 education. Many school districts, and thus, many schools are facing funding cuts. There are more students to teach and less resources to do it with. Until the funding situation changes (and who knows what will change that? better economy? change in priorities? change in how schools are organized?), something else must change to turn the tide toward better learning environments and better “outcomes.” NDeRC has made a big difference in the lives of thousands of students in the Michiana area, and is a good position to continue and expand that positive influence.
There is a large demand for well educated STEM students and STEM professionals. In some ways, cultural forces are creating this demand (or scarcity of STEM professionals to be employed), as youth are told that scientists and engineers are “nerdy” or socially inept, thus unworthy of aspiring to. When, in reality, STEM professionals include doctors, business people, innovators who create new technology, advisers to government officials (or the officials themselves), environmentalists, historians, even Indiana Jones! If students knew that by studying science and math they could do so much, many more would want to. Not every scientist is mixing chemicals in beakers, and those that do have a lot of fun doing it. NDeRC activities in the classroom act as a dynamic “awareness week” for students.
Students in traditional schools spend an overwhelming amount of time with peers that are almost exactly their own age, and with adult teachers. Sometimes they see students just above and just below in age, and students from big families get to see siblings of different ages too. However, the half generation above (people who are about 10 years older) are almost invisible. By letting K-12 students see what graduate students are doing, they can more easily imagine themselves doing something similar. Graduate students can be the role models for the next half generation in a unique way.
Along those same lines, NDeRC is leading the way for how a community sees education. Colleges and universities often are very separate from the nearby communities, and Notre Dame is no exception. There are ways that Notre Dame does outreach to the community, but in general it is not very visible. In fact, besides the local work that Notre Dame does, there is much that Notre Dame does far away from the Michiana area. NDeRC is trying to change the visibility as much as possible. NDeRC is more and more showing up in teacher-teacher and teacher-administrator conversations, in school newsletters, and even in local newspapers. The more the better. There are lots of people and groups out there helping to enhance education, but they are often not aware of the others out there. Instead of a continent, there are only islands. With NDeRC’s vision of STEM community, NDeRC needs to be leading the way for visibility as well.
What media outlets could be targeted? ND newspapers and magazines? More inside connections to local papers? Word of mouth is working. We are growing our internet presence. There is a lot to do.
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