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NEW COLLEGES FORMED A plan to reorganize the College of Integrated Science and Technology into two colleges took effect July 1, 2012. The new colleges are the College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.

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STEM Helps Improve Science and Math Education

By Amanda Rivera
Posted: April 16, 20067

PHOTO: STEM ParticipantsIn a culture dominated by iPods, Blackberries and Hybrids, it’s become increasingly important to supply America’s future with sufficient skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).  “Providing high quality jobs for hard working Americans must be our top priority - and in order to accomplish that, we must be proactive.  The necessary first step is to improve science and math education in schools, because an educated workforce is the foundation for economic strength,” stated Congressman Daniel Lipinski, in his speech before the National Science Board Commission on 21st Century Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  James Madison University is just one of many institutions devoted to answering this governmental plea.  “There’s a strong interest at JMU in improving [STEM areas] pre-college, in grades K-12, so that we have more students interested in doing this sort of thing at the college level and we have more scientists, technologists and engineers out in the work force,” says Dr. Kolvoord, JMU ISAT Professor and Director of the National Center for Rural Science and Mathematics Education.  

The National Center for Rural Science and Mathematics Education began a couple of years ago with a grant from the United States Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Education (FIE).  Last year, the Center offered its first workshop to STEM teachers at rural middle schools.  By offering middle school teachers with the knowledge to implement the use of geospatial technologies in the classroom, this project can be used as a gateway to further other STEM undertakings.  “The hope is that in using these technologies is a way to stimulate their interest and geospatial technology is just one of the ways, but it’s something we do pretty well here,” says Dr. Kolvoord.  

After teachers have completed the workshop, they are still guided by JMU staff.  The Center is also holding a reunion refresher workshop for these teachers in the summer.  Dr. Kolvoord states, “The key piece to all this is you need to give the teachers some training, but you [also] need to support them as they implement things.”  Despite this direction, teachers are allowed the freedom to take the technology and apply it in different ways.  “Some have focused on the National Park; others have focused on different visualization technologies, but all around basically trying to get the kids to visualize using maps or images to help [them] understand science, math, engineering and technology,” says Dr. Kolvoord.

The Geospatial Semester is another endeavor Dr. Kolvoord has facilitated to incite youth interest in STEM areas.  A dual enrollment effort, the Geospatial Semester is a way to engage students in their senior year before college.  By taking high school courses in advanced science or technology, students learn to use geospatial mapping software while earning 3-6 JMU credits.  In its second year, the Geospatial Semester included 40 students in four schools.  “We are looking at probably ten or dozen districts next year and it continues to grow very nicely,” says Dr. Kolvoord. 

Because of its appeal to both teachers and students, the Geospatial semester has received positive responses from everyone involved.  “The teachers enjoy it because it gives them something different to do, its not programmed…they get to be creative, they have to think and they have to kind of work their way through it and its very stimulating for them.  For the kids, it’s an opportunity to do something different. They recognize that the technology skills have some value and they are also seeing the world in a little different way by making these maps,” he says.  This learning experience has even made high school students an indispensable commodity to colleges before they even step foot on campus.  Dr. Kolvoord explains, “We’ve had kids hired as interns with very good salaries in the summer.  In fact, a number of the kids were interviewed to be TA’s at a local college, because there weren’t kids on campus that could do it.” 

While integration of geospatial technology has been beneficial to pre-college education, Dr. Kolvoord’s work has been instrumental on the home front as well.  He says, “…it’s getting students interested in things we do here at JMU.  And the thought is that we’ll get students from these high schools to start getting interested in wanting to come here.”  As students continue studies of STEM areas into college, they can be assured that they will be a part of a highly represented industry in America.  “GIS, geospatial technology, is going to be one of the top three technology growth areas for the next decade.  Nanotechnology, biotechnology and geospatial are the big three in the US,” says Dr. Kolvoord.