STEM, STEM, Everywhere-a-STEM: 3 Ways to Engage with STEM Disciplines

Author: Nastasha Johnson

Everywhere we turn there is talk about STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math disciplines. In February 2012, President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued a report, “Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in STEM.” In the report, it advised that the U.S. needs more graduates than forecasted in order to remain economically competitive in a global market. As a boost of support, the Department of Education recently awarded $30.8 million in grants for high school student preparation for post-secondary education in the STEM fields.

Despite the initiatives and funding, we have not heard much about support units’ engagement with STEM fields. Let’s talk about 3 ideas for library engagement.

Within the University: Consider partnering with an academic unit on a grant. My university recently won a grant to pilot a developmental math project. It may not seem like the library had much to offer, but we did have space. Sure, space is a HUGE commitment but if we have one purpose, student achievement, then it is a little price to pay. Actually, the library gained a computer lab that is also a satellite location for math proctoring. Library faculty and staff do not proctor, but we do manage the space and computers. If there is an improvement in retention, decreases in the D and F grades, and Withdrawal rates are decreased, then the library has played a major role.

Outside of the University: Consider partnering with a vendor(s). Many of the online resources that academic departments rely on, like IEEExplore, have an outreach or training department that will come to your campus and conduct a training session. Be warned, it may also include a sales pitch for their latest product, but sometimes it does not. We partnered with our regional IEEE trainer to provide a session for our IEEE student chapter. It was an effort initiated by the library, but also coordinated with the Electrical Engineering department chair and IEEE student chapter advisor. The trainer shared information about the benefits of membership, scholarships and award contests that the students could participate. She also talked about conferences and networking opportunities. The IEEE trainer graciously bought pizza and brought freebies. Equally important, the librarian was able to get contact information of faculty and students for further engagement.

Regionally/Nationally: Consider traveling to partner. When you see that next announcement for a conference or workshop in the STEM disciplines, consider attending. Most recently I attended a Project Kaleidoscope meeting in a nearby city, where of the nearly 100 attendees there were only 2 librarians! Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) is a unit of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, focused on strengthening STEM academic programs and learning. It is imperative that we librarians leave our building comfort zones and get out! I was able to answer that familiar question: “So, what do you do?” In this setting, they were eager to hear my answer and consider ways to collaborate. As a result, I was invited to the next departmental faculty meeting to talk about what I do and how I can help.

In closing, engaging STEM disciplines can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding for your library and for you individually. It does require thinking — and acting — outside of the box, but connecting with STEM fields can solidify that relevancy that academic libraries are seeking.

Nastasha Johnson is an Assistant Professor and Reference Librarian at F.D. Bluford Library at North Carolina A&T State University. She is Liaison for the Electrical and Computer Engineering, Liberal Studies, Computational Sciences, Computer Science, and Math Departments. She is also Chair of the Public Programs Committee of Bluford Library.

Loretta Wallace

Business, Economics, Hotel & Restaurant Management Librarian University of Houston

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