Mini STEM talks targeting misconceptions

162

AURORA | It’s not about being super smart. It’s not even about being a geek or poring over equations for hours.

For Inge Wefes, associate dean of the graduate school at University of Colorado Denver, it’s about filling roles that will be desperately needed in the
future.

“As everyone knows there is an anticipated shortage of workers in disciplines related to (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). People shy away getting trained in these disciplines because they might be ill-informed on what it all is,” she said.

To combat that perceived misunderstanding, CU Denver will be launching an eight-part discussion about STEM-related fields starting Jan. 30 through March 20 at 7 p.m. at its downtown Denver Auraria campus. The sessions are free and open to the public. The Mini-STEM School discussions follows closely the pattern set by the Mini-Med school series that the school hosts at the Anschutz Medical Campus.

Wefes said the purpose of the talks is to excite others about the possibilities in STEM-related careers. The discussions include biomedical engineering, evolution and the origins of life, astronomy — even the mathematics of world peace.

“We would like to alert everyone who can hear and walk about the excitement that comes with these disciplines. There are many varieties of science from biology, physics and chemistry and technology,” she said. Wefes also says there’s a “stepchild” too when it comes to talking about STEM-related careers: mathematics.

“Many people think ‘mathematics’ are so theoretically overloaded and that once you have survived it in high school you never need it again. Or they don’t know what to do with it,” she said.

Barry Shur, dean of the University of Colorado Graduate School, says he’s seen a steady decline of interest in science-related careers since the 1950s.

“We’ve been losing a lot of our prestige and global ranking to other countries,” he said. “In large part, the American public has shied away from (STEM careers) since the Sputnik era.”

The presenters were selected based on their abilities to offer engaging discussions on science-related topics. Shur said the talks certainly won’t be “dry lectures.

“The hope is they’ll be excited about these fields,” he said. “Even if no one signs up for school, if we can at least get people interested in these disciplines … then we’ve succeeded.”

Science and math may seem hopelessly boring sometimes, he said, but they’re certainly not.

Grace Boll, a physics teacher at Hinkley High School, knows that sentiment very well.

Boll, who said she teaches a “mathematics class disguised as a science class,” said she’s taking a few students to the discussions so they can see firsthand the possibilities of careers in science or math.

The series follows closely the introduction to engineering courses she teaches at Hinkley, she said, and her students don’t see math and physics as unconquerable fields, but rather as problem-solving opportunities in her classroom. There are some groans she said, but that’s slowly changing.

“I’ve had great success teaching that way. And the teachers that I know at Hinkley do a really good job of making math accessible to the kids too. So hopefully we’re changing their minds too,” she said.

Wefes said that while the discussions at the school may attract high school students who are thinking about college, or undergraduate or graduate students thinking about careers, the talks are open to the public and anyone is invited to attend.

“We’re offering free parking downtown just so people don’t have a reason not to come,” she said.

 

 

Advanced registration for the classes is required. For more information go to https://gswebapps.ucdenver.edu/ministem