Purpose, Passion and the Quest for ‘Why?’: Today’s College Students Yearn to Make Sense of STEM

The Massachusetts STEM Summit, held October 22, 2014, had roughly 1,300 attendees at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts. Attendees traveled from across the state to discuss engaging k-12 students in science, technology, math, engineering and independent research. The University Innovation Fellows were invited to present in the afternoon. The following excerpt appeared in the MA STEM Summit program booklet. 

“Weed-em-out’ courses, dry lectures, rigorous math and an array of prerequisites stamp the love of learning out of young college students. Some universities are getting it right, but overall not so much. Fewer than 40% of students who enter college intending to major in a STEM field complete a STEM degree, according to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Our nation needs us to produce one million more STEM college graduates than predicted. So, how do we, as K-12 educators, who care about the future of our most promising students, ensure a successful handoff to our collegiate counterparts? A new program called the University Innovation Fellows empowers college students to develop a culture of creativity and innovation. These students are developing strategies and learning opportunities that engage peers in project-based learning and human-centered design. The model of empowering students to develop their voice to serve as partners to faculty in bringing about institutional change has been a fruitful one, yielding innovation spaces, new courses and has even attracted alumni investment in new programs. University Innovation Fellows believe connecting high school graduates to a creative community of makers and innovators is the answer. Connecting freshman to learning opportunities that inspire students based on relevant and real-world problems as soon as they arrive at college is a means to keeping students engaged in STEM. As 168 Fellows at 85 schools work to expand and attract peers to innovation and entrepreneurship programs, the opportunity exists to create a bridge for high school students to a cool creative culture of like-minded students who can introduce and engage them in the innovation ecosystem. Recognized by the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, the University Innovation Fellows is a program of the Epicenter and is funded by the National Science Foundation. In this session, participants will be introduced to the work of two Fellows who also volunteer their time in local K-12 schools to inspire young STEM enthusiasts. Learn what triggered their interests in STEM and hear their recommendations for high schools to guide students towards successful STEM careers.

The session was moderated by the Fellows Senior Program Officer, Humera Fasihuddin. The two Fellows panelists were Ellery Addington-White and Kevin Desjardins (below).

Ellery Addington-White

Ellery Addington-White

Ellery is currently a senior at Beloit College in Wisconsin working to complete a Computer Science degree. He is actively involved in CELEB, the Center for Entrepreneurship in Liberal Education at Beloit. Find out more about his student priorities here.

Ellery became very interested in digital art in high school, which led him to teach the class to other students his junior year. He now volunteers his time to work with the Beloit Boys & Girls Club and other K-12 youth to make innovation, entrepreneurship, coding and computer science more accessible.



Kevin Desjardins, University of Massaschusetts, Lowell

Kevin Desjardins

Kevin is a senior at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He is completing his degree in Civil Engineering and his taking his capstone project to the next level by creating an immersive, hands-on, project-based learning experience in Haiti. Find out more about his student priorities here.

Kevin has always had an interest in engineering. He works closely with Future Cities and other local organizations to bring underserved youth STEM education learning opportunities.





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