KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Few things come without a fair amount of investment, nurturing and innovation. Such is the case with growing a diverse, well-trained science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce.
The Western Michigan University STEM Workforce Collaboratory (STEM-WC), a partnership between the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is one way the University is striving to achieve that exact goal. With the backing of a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Western will be able to improve its STEM programs and expand the STEM pipeline and workforce.
“The strategic plans of the National Science Foundation and Department of Education have emphasized the value of STEM education and talent development for years. Through this collaboratory, we are establishing a local means for many facets of STEM to engage and advance together,” says Dr. James Burns, director of STEM-WC and an assistant professor in the Department of Industrial and Entrepreneurial Engineering and Engineering Management.
To put it briefly, the STEM-WC enhances both curricula at WMU and the regional STEM workforce pipeline by establishing a platform for fruitful cooperation between industry, higher education and the K-12 academic community by providing the University with guidance and funds for ongoing updates to STEM lab technologies and faculty professional development.
In order to achieve this, the collaboratory’s specific goals are to establish an entity:
- where students, industry and academic communities can come together and collaborate on the development of relevant STEM-focused microcredentials that will enhance the skills and knowledge of the STEM workforce;
- to enhance course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) and student internships to gain relevant real-world knowledge while pursuing a college education;
- to provide opportunities for externships for WMU faculty to gain real-world experience so that they can better incorporate industry needs into current and future curricula;
- to allow for industry partners to communicate training needs to Western; and
- to allow for WMU faculty experts to help industry solve problems.
With STEM employment expected to grow faster than overall employment through the 2019–29 period (10% vs. 4%), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020), there is a “clear need to invest in education and technology to support STEM faculty and students to grow the next generation of innovators and technical professionals,” says Dr. Adam Mathews, assistant director of STEM-WC and an associate professor in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Tourism.
“It’s exciting to be able to use these resources to create new microcredential programs in a variety of STEM disciplines across campus and to introduce cutting-edge technology and equipment to support that training for students, educators, and professionals in industry,” says Mathews. “It’s cyclical what we are doing; not just investing in technology today, but the people in the field to become the innovative leaders of tomorrow.”
To learn more about the STEM Workforce Collaboratory, visit https://wmich.edu/stem.
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.