On April 26th 2018, STEM Pathways conducted their spring Dinner and Dialogue, the primary goal of the evening was to reach, inspire and expose students to synthetic biology and STEM, which STEM Pathways did by inviting prominent speakers from various science backgrounds. The discussion ranged from the exposure to STEM to its misconceptions, systems and actions for the student, teacher and professional. The other topic of discussion was the recent Science and Engineering Indicators 2018 Report released by the NSF. The report highlighted the primary indicators in STEM education, workforce, industry, technology and R&D.
In a room full of passionate scientists and STEM enthusiasts, the conversation never ceased. The faculty from Boston University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology shared the recent developments in their outreach programs. The evening began with casual conversation as the various attendees got to know one another, soon after which Mrs. Tiffany E. Grant King steered the conversation to deliberate the national view of STEM and its misconceptions. The room talked about the two main fallacies that occur in STEM: it isn’t stimulating enough and is a male dominated field. The truth however, as the attendees discussed, is that science based subjects are fascinating as long as the people teaching these subjects show their students it is intriguing and fun. Moreover, while the men to women ratio in STEM isn’t equal, it is steadily increasing with more women being represented in their fields. The attendees also lauded the increased representation of women of color in STEM fields.
The conversation then seamlessly flowed onto discussing the exposure of STEM within the various systems and facets of teaching, being taught and the acts of doing. The four women sharing their experiences were Natasha Patel, Dr. Helen Fawcett, Amanda Dillingham and Marilene Pavan, who brought their backgrounds as students, teachers and lab managers.
The STEM Outreach Coordinator of Boston University College of Engineering, Natasha Patel, spoke first. She described her experience as a student being enamored and fascinated with science as a young undergraduate and working her way to being an outreach coordinator. She mentioned that she was glad to have had avenues to support her interest in STEM subjects at Boston University. She currently manages 61 undergraduate engineering majors in the Technology Innovations Scholars Program. Dr. Helen Fawcett, a PI of the NSF RET Site in Integrated Nano-manufacturing, agreed with Natasha by saying that as a faculty member of BU’s Photonics, it was extremely important to her that BU’s students have ample exposure to STEM and the rapid developments that are taking place.
Amanda Dillingham, a teacher at East Boston High School, was of the same mind as Dr. Fawcett. She recalled her students’ growing interest in engineering as she worked hard to provide them with all the resources so they would have an avenue beyond just textbook learning. She mentioned that she constantly encouraged them to push their boundaries to learn more and dig deep to find out how things worked. Ms. Dillingham insisted that a wider exposure to STEM would have to start from elementary school and have a broad reach by the time students reached high school.
The manager of the DAMP lab at Boston University, Marilene Pavan reiterated Amanda Dillingham’s point about creating a wider exposure to STEM subjects and mentioned that while synthetic biological lab work seems like simply moving one clear liquid from one test tube to the other, it is in fact riveting process on a much smaller level. She believes that those with patience and an interest in synthetic biology would flourish in a lab environment.
The evening concluded with the attendees sharing what they believed was vital for the exposure of STEM across the various levels of education and enjoyed a great buffet as they got to know one another.