America's economy is becoming increasingly technology based, the demand for more people working science, technology, engineering and math-based fields is rising. In response, Central Michigan University is making an effort to improve its programs in STEM fields.
"Student success is a major component of the (College of Science and Technology) strategic plan and our objectives include improved first to second year retention, increased graduation rates and shorter time to graduation for our students," said Ian Davison, dean of the College of Science and Technology.
This can best be reflected in the on going construction of the $95 million Biosciences Building. However, this is just one of the actions taken by CMU President George Ross and Davison.
"To meet these objectives we have implemented several initiatives such as the new Active Learning Classrooms in Dow and the CST Student Success Center that provides college-based academic advising and career services," Davison said.
Within the last academic year, there were 2,176 signed majors in STEM disciplines in CST and 645 undergraduate degrees were awarded. This is a 23 percent increase in majors and a 38-percent increase in undergraduate degrees from five years ago.
A three-pronged approach
Colleges on CMU's campus aren't the only ones trying to reinvigorate STEM degrees – it has valuable partners off-campus, as well.
The CMU Research Corporation and Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance work closely together to develop business talent in both Mount Pleasant and Isabella County.
CMURC not only provides support programs for existing companies, it works to create new companies and eventually bring them to mid-Michigan.
The addition of Charter Communications to the Mount Pleasant SmartZone district is the first major development for STEM in seven years. Located on the south end CMU's campus, the SmartZone provides a geographical advantage for entrepreneurs and researchers to use CMU assets to assist their endeavors.
These SmartZones include technology business accelerators, much like the CMURC, that use resources from universities and private enterprises to facilitate the commercialization of technology brought about by research. Michigan has 15 SmartZones, but only CMURC serves the Central Michigan area.
Erin O’Brien, president and CEO of CMURC, said the organization will be taking a different approach to bringing in companies after their shell building sat empty for so long. They are looking to put together a “concentrated plan” to acquire tenants who will eventually be able to move into their own space in the SmartZone.
Beginning that process, CMURC is looking at focus groups comprised of young professionals that are starting technology companies to find out what their needs are, O'Brien said.
They plan to go to city officials and the CMU Board of Trustees for pre-approval of occupants in SmartZone buildings after conducting focus groups with developers and investors. This will help them determine what makes financial sense.
“There’s a big gap between the skills which students have when they graduate and the point where they’re able to be employed by these large industry partners in the region,” O’Brien said. “Dow, for instance, has a huge stake in getting a qualified, talented, skilled workforce here.”
CMURC, the GLBRA and the university all hope to address the need for local talent by working collaboratively on the GLBRA’s Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics Impact Initiative.
At an Economic Outlook Luncheon hosted by the Mount Pleasant Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Matt Felan, GLBRA president and CEO, said the development of STEM education is one of three immediate initiatives of his organization.
“Number one is talent development through STEM education,” he said. “With the premise of building the workforce of tomorrow, to meet the growing needs of our current employers and more importantly, to be able to build that workforce to attract new jobs and businesses to the region.”
Growing the brand of STEM and helping it grow takes finding the right kind of partners. Recruiting a president of a university with a brand new medical school and a Biosciences Building on the way was a no-brainer for the GLBRA, Felan said.
“It hit me, ‘where is the president of CMU?’” he said. “When you look at Central Michigan University, you don’t have to look any further than the medical school to really understand regionalization, because small communities from the Great Lakes Bay Region are really going to be struggling for primary care.”
Ross is not the only higher education official to have a stake in GLBRA’s board. Presidents from Northwood, Delta College, the provost of Saginaw Valey State University and the Interim Dean at the College of Education at SVSU hold seats.
However, the recent addition of Ross to the GLBRA Board of Directors have made its ties to the university stronger.
“Our priority for GLBRA is talent development through STEM education,” Felan said. “It’s great to have a partner like George Ross who is willing to be actively involved on our board on a daily basis.”
Felan and the rest of the GLBRA will share the results of their recent research into STEM education at the STEM Impact Initiative Summit on Nov. 13 at the McGuirk Arena.
STEM at CMU
Through the joining of these three forces, a multi-faceted plan is coming to fruition.
The GLBRA provides the push for STEM research and education, while CMU provides the students who are clamoring for the hard sciences. The CMURC provides the training and guidance for those students to contribute to the surrounding industry.
As more STEM fields and opportunities develop, Ross said the university remains dedicated to developing talented, job-ready students – no matter their major.
“I think our direction with our academic programs is really about two or three things,” Ross said. “Number one has to do with providing for our students a complete, sound education. We do have a lot of conversations about STEM, but I haven’t met an engineer yet who couldn’t write, who couldn’t reason and who couldn’t think critically. Our job at CMU is to teach you all how to think, and we will continue to do that whether it’s in the STEM area or whether it’s in English.”