26 strategies for improving the future of STEM education


Erik Ketcherside

Ariel Anbar and Punya Mishra are the principal investigators for “The Future Substance of STEM Education,” a research project based at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Anbar is a President’s Professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and School of Molecular Sciences, and an affiliate faculty member of MLFTC, where Mishra is associate dean of scholarship and innovation. Their National Science Foundation-funded research project brought together faculty members from universities from across the nation for a weeklong workshop in October.

Read more about the project.

The 105 participants, representing 53 institutions in 29 U.S. states, formed 25 teams that collaborated virtually via an online platform developed by the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College in Minnesota. Each team designed an innovative curriculum product. These included programs for six degrees and nine certificates; seven courses, course components, or curricular alignments; and three training or professional development programs. The products include or combine disciplines — biology, chemistry, geology, engineering, health sciences — as well as existing interdisciplinary STEM programs.

The teams designed their materials for an array of audiences including STEM majors and nonmajors, first-year students, discipline majors in upper-level courses, college faculty, preservice teachers, student leaders and college STEM-bound high school students.

Here are the final products of those collaborations, hosted on the STEM Futures website.

Sample Major in Integrated Science and Engineering, Specifically Aimed at 9–12 Educators

Shanthi Ayyadhury (IFLEED Institute of Math and Science), Horacio Ferriz (California State University, Stanislaus)

This proposed four-year major would prepare high school science and engineering teachers by emphasizing integration of science and engineering courses, humanistic ethics and thoughtful reflection on the goals of being a teacher.

A Course Scaffold for Integrating Science and Culture: A water example

Amy Charkowski (Colorado State University), Hugo Gutierrez (University of Texas, El Paso), Sharon Locke (Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville), Joey Nelson (Stanford University), Tracy Wacker (University of Michigan, Flint)

The History and Future of Water will be a course integrating the sciences and humanities, incorporating perspectives of economics, geology, hydrology and society, leading students to an informed approach for thinking about water sustainability and resiliency. A digital portfolio created throughout the course will showcase this integrated learning. Instructors can adapt the course to their disciplines, expertise and specific groups of students.

An Interactive Fiction Game for Information Literacy in STEM Courses

Dana Atwood-Blaine, David Grant, Anne Marie Gruber (University of Northern Iowa)

A digital, interactive fiction game allows undergraduate STEM students to “choose their own adventure” to learn information literacy skills. A science-fiction scenario with diverse characters set on Saturn’s moon, Titan, requires critical thinking, problem-solving and dealing with ambiguity. Effective gameplay will require players to draw upon foundational, meta and humanistic knowledge domains.

Creation of a Revised Biochemistry and Molecular BS Degree Integrating the Humanistic, Metacognitive and Foundational Knowledge Domains

Tammy Clark, Scott Gabriel (Viterbo University)

This degree program for Viterbo University would prepare students for health-care and STEM-related careers through a holistic approach. The curriculum invites students to use knowledge in applied settings such as course-embedded research, service-learning and community-building both on- and off-campus. Students will participate in symposiums and seminar courses showcasing the complexity of science-related issues.

Systems and Solutions Certificate

Meghann Jarchow, Ranjeet John, Karen Koster, KC Santosh, Bess Vlaisavljevich (University of South Dakota)

The team proposes undergraduate and graduate certificates in systems and solutions within the University of South Dakota College of Arts and Sciences. The certificates will prepare students from all disciplines to use systems thinking and STEM tools to model complex systems, and to use design thinking to develop solutions within those systems.

A Program Portfolio in Environmental Science as a Way to Integrate Humanistic, Meta- and Foundational Knowledge and Develop Professional Identity

Jacquelyn Kelly, Eve Krahe, Mary Elizabeth Smith (University of Phoenix)

The program portfolio is a student project spanning the core coursework in the undergraduate Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science program, and comprising deliverables from multiple core courses. The completed portfolio is assessed in the final course of the program, and the student may use it to demonstrate career-readiness to potential employers and as a personal model and process for professional growth.

University of Maryland, Baltimore CURE Scholars Program: A culminating design thinking capstone experience

TaShara Bailey, Gia McGinnis, Sequoia Wright (University of Maryland, Baltimore) 

CURE is a year-round, holistic STEM and health care pipeline program for West Baltimore middle and high school youth providing afterschool and summer programming and an annual STEM exposition fair, as well as social-emotional support and parent and community engagement through its social work program. A culminating capstone project would allow students to synthesize their six years of work through a design thinking framework.

The Scientific Process in a Changing World

Jordan Axelson, Jeff Moore (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign); Michelle Kovarik (Trinity College)

This single course would be the first in a sequence toward a certificate in science literacy. In the course’s first phase, an initial case study will examine the scientific process in a historical context. In the second, students will produce a report about a contemporary socioscientific issue, present their results to the class and generate a publishable product.

Scientific Solutions for Society Certificate Program

Adriana Bankston (Journal of Science Policy and Governance), Peggy Biga (University of Alabama, Birmingham), Chris Bolden (University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston), Teresa Eastburn (University of Colorado, Boulder) Harinder Singh (University of California, Irvine)

This graduate and professional certificate program will train participants to solve societal problems of today and the future using science and innovation. “SS4S” focuses on effective science communication, policy, and principles of sustainability and assessment of innovations for society at the local and global level. In addition to problem-solving skills, participants will gain leadership skills by serving as trainers for subsequent course offerings.

Learning Assistant Leadership Development Program

Megan Cole, David Lynn, Tracy McGill, Kate McKnelly, Rebecca Shetty (Emory University)

The program develops students' interdisciplinary STEM thinking, identities as leaders and leadership practices rooted in Emory's student leadership philosophy. Students selected as undergraduate laboratory teaching assistants, LAs and peer mentors in select chemistry and biology courses are required to participate in this semester-long program comprising a workshop, weekly exercises and a capstone presentation.

The Ethical Reasoning Instrument

Cynthia Bauerle (James Madison University), Laura Bottomley (North Carolina State University), Carrie Hall and Daniel Howard, (University of New Hampshire), Lisette Torres-Gerald (Nebraska Wesleyan University)

The team created a digital resource instrument — a “wizard” — to assist in the development of life sciences curricula that frame biology competencies in the context of ethical reasoning. Using the Eight Key Questions framework developed at James Madison University, they generated a series of questions and examples of how instructors can adapt their syllabuses, classroom activities, assessments and pedagogy to recenter ethical reasoning.

Biology in Practice: Moving toward a research-based major

Sarah Elgin, Christopher Shaffer (Washington University, St. Louis), Shan Hays (Western State College, Colorado), Vida Mingo (Columbia College, South Carolina), Jason Williams (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory)

This program teaches biology through research experiences and practical examples of current issues. It proposes alternative implementations, suggestions and insights for achieving a research-centered biology major at institutions of higher learning outside the context of a Research I university.

Convergence of Engineering and Allied Disciplines through Symbiotic Course Pairs

Kavitha Chandra, Christopher Hansen, David Willis, Yanfen Li (University of Massachusetts, Lowell)

This proposed transformative engineering approach integrates core knowledge with allied disciplines that promote student development of professional skills and dispositions. The program addresses ethical reasoning, communication, leadership, meta-cognitive skills, creativity, cultural awareness and teamwork. Allied disciplines for engineering students include: humanities, social sciences, arts, and management and entrepreneurship.

Amplifying Humanistic and Meta Knowledge in the Bachelor of Science Degree in Biological Sciences

Joshua Caulkins, Karin Ellison, Ben Hurlbut, Kate MacCord, Amy Pate, Christian Wright, (Arizona State University)

As the biological sciences degree program at ASU is being reviewed and realigned, this team proposes integrating humanistic, meta and foundational knowledge to better prepare students for lives as professionals and citizens.

Inquiry, Design and Ethical Action Scholars Certificate

Trina Davis, Cheryl Craig, Michele Norton, Sara Raven, Claire Katz (Texas A&M University)

IDEA-S — the Inquiry, Design and Ethical Action Scholars Certificate Program for incoming STEM and STEM education freshmen — will help them navigate virtual and in-person design thinking and inquiry-based experiences, building their capacities for ethical action and impact change in the STEM context. The program culminates with a project to solve complex problems in high-need communities.

An Ecosystem Intersecting Humanities, Computational and Engineering Disciplines with Cultural and Other Assets of Our Communities

Stephanie August and Gustavo Menezes (California State University, Los Angeles), Bettyjo Bouchey (National Louis University), Alan Cheville (Bucknell University), Melissa Ko (Stanford University)

This project resulted in a manifesto on the future of STEM education. It is written as a guide to help students, faculty and staff achieve their full potential by identifying, then moving away from traditional models of higher education into an ecosystem-based model, in which agents are seen as assets that enrich a learning environment, valued for who they are, their strengths, their desires and the dreams they bring in, and they are nurtured to thrive.

Educators Certificate: STEM in the public interest

Eliza Reilly (State University of New York, Stony Brook), Davida Smyth (New School University), Jay Labov (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine)

The team proposes a certification program for STEM educators that combines ideals and strategies of Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities with professional development in pedagogy, science communication and community collaboration. The program offers instructors guides and training, and grounding in effective science communication, informal science learning and the development of collaborative opportunities.

Accelerated Engineering Certificate at Holyoke Community College

Melissa Paciulli, Adrienne Smith, Gordon Snyder, Ileana Vasu (Holyoke Community College)

This approach to assisting STEM students with accelerated learning in the community college setting positions first-year students for internships and research opportunities faster to increase persistence and completion. Focusing on the recruitment of historically marginalized students and supporting the development of technical and essential skills will enable them to work in industry at an earlier point in their studies.

Critical Health Studies Undergraduate Degree Program

Erika Bonadio, Spring Duvall, Katie Manthey, Maria Robinson, Jing Ye (Salem College)

This transdisciplinary major program of co-taught courses incorporates STEM, social sciences and humanities related to health and well-being. Student cohorts are book-ended by project-based learning seminars. An action research focus establishes partnerships with community groups to create interventions to reduce health inequities. The curriculum models a decolonized course design to promote fundamental values.

Translating STEM, Integrating Values

Becky Bates (Minnesota State University-Mankato), Alexandra Bradner (Kenyon College)

Translating across disciplines can be challenging. The goal of this project is to incorporate knowledge from other disciplines both within and outside STEM. Translational challenges are considered from both a liberal arts perspective and an engineering/science perspective, connected through the use of narrative and story. Two credentials in STEM communications and ethics help students learn the skills of translation while practicing integration.

Community-Based Interdisciplinary STEM Certificate

Nawal Benmouna, Vedham Karpakakunjaram, Milton Nash, Rebecca Thomas (Montgomery College)

Many problems that impact our lives, such as the spread of infectious diseases or climate change, demand expertise from one or more STEM domains. Effective solutions require an understanding beyond STEM, integrating the culture, values and interests of impacted communities. This certificate prepares students to solve complex problems in the context of their communities.

Montana Space Grant Consortium Hands-On STEM Certificate

Angela Des Jardins, Randal Larimer (Montana State University–Bozeman)

Many Montana higher education students don't have access to the real-world STEM experience employers desire due to factors such as institutional focus on academic learning and relatively low number of local pre-graduation training and research opportunities. The Montana Space Grant Consortium offers a hands-on STEM certificate as a guided path to prepare participants to start their careers.

The Science of Disparities Concentration

Kristin Chapleau, Kari Dugger, Samantha Giordano-Mooga, Nadia Richardson, (University of Alabama, Birmingham)

The team proposes changes to the Biomedical Sciences program at the University of Alabama, Birmingham to create concentrations allowing undergraduates to develop expertise in subspecialities within the biomedical sciences field. A Science of Disparities concentration within the program will be designated on transcripts, providing students the opportunity to create unique expertise accommodating their career goals.

Certificate in Sustainability Solutions

Stephanie Pfirman (Arizona State University)

This certificate prepares students to apply sustainability principles and approaches to address complex human and environmental challenges. Through six courses, including an applied project, the Sustainability Solutions certificate offers practical, skill-based experience positioning students for today's job market.

Faculty Development Workshop: Transforming the student learning experience in STEM courses through modules that connect fundamental knowledge with social issues​​

Lisa Lewis (Albion College), Kathryn Miller (Washington University, St. Louis), Gary Reiness (Lewis & Clark College), Jim Swartz (Grinnell College)

This workshop will train faculty members to implement socially relevant modules that convey foundational concepts in introductory STEM courses as part of motivating, engaging and retaining students and promoting their success. Participants will create a product they can implement and will be equipped to present the workshop to others.

Certificate Program in Ethics in STEAM Research with Indigenous Communities and Lands

Karletta Chief (University of Arizona), Dominique David-Chavez (Colorado State University), Ángel Garcia Jr. (James Madison University), Darryl Reano (Florida International University), Steven Semken (Arizona State University)

This certification program introduces ethical frameworks for collaborative STEAM research with Indigenous communities or on Indigenous lands. It is designed for academic researchers, student researchers, funding program managers, and similar professionals. The certificate is based on Indigenous governance and rights-based metrics for integrity.