Tag Archive | "STEM"

West Florida student participates in math research at Harvard University

From the UWF Newsroom

Ruth Ashley, a senior mathematics student at the University of West Florida, spent the summer at Harvard University’s Research Experience for Undergraduates internship program, an opportunity she described as “a dream come true.”

For 10 weeks during the Summer 2013 semester, Ashley worked at the Institute for Applied Computational Science as part of a pilot program that develops opportunities for students to apply mathematics to solve real-world problems proposed by industry sponsors. She worked with two other students for Quantam Reservoir Impact, a value-creation agency for the upstream oil and gas industry based in Houston, Texas. Her team’s objective was to create a data-driven model to predict the best places to drill in the Southern region of Texas.

“It excites me, knowing that I have real world experience in data analysis now,” she said.

Ashley, a John. C. Pace Honors Scholar, said the costs of the trip were funded completely using an off-campus educational experience stipend that is granted to all Pace Scholars.

During the Spring 2013 semester at UWF, Ashley completed a proseminar in queuing theory with assistant professor Dr. Anthony Okafor, which engaged her in mathematical and statistical research above standard course materials. She credits that, as well as her involvement in the UWF Honors Program, for providing her with the skills needed to succeed in the Harvard internship program.

“After successfully completing my proseminar, I felt more confident in my ability to do independent research,” she said. “Participating in the Honors Program has also strengthened my team-working skills, which was helpful as I worked very closely with two students for 40 hours a week throughout the summer internship.”

Ashley will graduate in December 2013, and she said her plan is to search for a job in her field, utilizing the experience she gained at UWF and Harvard.

“I encourage students in STEM disciplines to participate in undergraduate research programs,” she said. “I’m so thankful that I was able to represent UWF at Harvard, and I know the experience has given me an edge for future career opportunities. This summer was a dream.”

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Gov. Scott threatens to defund liberal arts

In October, Gov. Rick Scott proposed increasing state funding to college programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) – all at the expense of programs in the liberal arts.

Although he began by targeting anthropology, the governor has also stated that degrees in psychology and journalism are not as important as those in STEM disciplines.

In an interview with the Sarasota “Herald-Tribune,” Scott questioned the future of journalism and students seeking journalism degrees.

“There’s a lot of jobs in journalism?” Scott rhetorically asked the reporter. “No, it’s tough.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this year that jobs for news analysts, reporters and correspondents are projected to decrease by 6 percent by 2018, but jobs for broadcast news analysts are expected to increase by
4 percent.

A substantial portion of our lives are spent relying on television, newspapers and online content, said Brendan Kelly, chair of the University of West Florida Department of Communication Arts.

“We train students in the University to produce that content by teaching them to think, write and research,” he said. “That’s why the journalism degree is valuable.”

Kelly said that journalism is a degree that specializes in the skills and knowledge sets that employers are seeking most, such as critical thinking, professional writing and careful research.

“The last thing we should do is discard journalism education because of change and transformation in the workplace,” said Gary Ghioto, journalism instructor.

He said he is well aware of the present downturn in the newspaper industry and other mainstream media sources due to a decline in ad dollars and audience, but “given journalism’s critical mission to search for truth, watchdog government and powerful interests, and give citizens the information they need to make informed decisions, journalism is more important now than ever.”

Scott has also suggested that degrees in psychology are unneeded, according to the “Herald-Tribune.”

“In most conceptions of STEM disciplines, psychology is included,” said Ronald Belter, associate professor of psychology. The governor apparently is misinformed, he said.

Jane Halonen, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, is a clinical psychologist who teaches introductory psychology in the UWF Honors program. She has also had experience dealing with the Florida Board of Governors regarding Scott’s criticism of non-STEM fields.

Halonen said that the Board of Governors doesn’t like the fact that psychology is such a popular degree.

“They think it’s easy because it’s popular,” she said. “It is a rigorous degree that easily qualifies as a STEM discipline.” Halonen also said that the National Science Foundation has recognized psychology as a STEM discipline.

Jackie Schutz, deputy press secretary for the governor, said in an email interview that Scott understands STEM disciplines and that greater focus on them will prepare Florida students to be more competitive in the 21st century.

“If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education, I’m going to take that money to create jobs,” Scott told the “Herald-Tribune.” “I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state.”

Scott’s belief of which degrees will earn more jobs may be misguided, however.

According to a recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the “ability to work in a team structure” and the “ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization” were the two most important candidate skills rated by employers.

Those were followed by candidates’ “ability to make decisions and solve problems,” “ability to obtain and process information” and “ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work.”

At UWF, such skills are not gained only through the study of STEM disciplines. They are also taught in communication arts, history, legal studies, philosophy and several others areas.

“To dismantle the nature of a broad liberal arts education in service of job training really isn’t what higher education is about,” Belter said. “Students should be informed about a broad range of things, not just one area of job kills.”

Laura Koppes Bryan, chair of the UWF School of Psychological and Behavioral Sciences, said she had no comment at this time.

Nicole Yeakos
Staff Writer 

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STEM women receive NSF grant

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $598,354, five-year grant to a team of University of West Florida faculty researchers. Their goal: to support women faculty in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics departments.

According to a Sept. 17 press release, researchers include: Laura Koppes Bryan, professor and director of the School of Psychological and Behavioral Sciences; Pam Vaughan, associate professor of chemistry; Sherry Schneider, assistant professor of psychology; Susan Walch, associate professor of psychology; and Rosemary Hays-Thomas, professor of psychology.

“The overall purpose of the grant is to enhance a supportive and inclusive culture for recruiting, retaining, and advancing women faculty in STEM, and to provide a University-wide, systematic, sustainable approach for advancing faculty women in STEM fields, with special attention to women of color and leadership positions,” Koppes Bryan said.

Field Retention Lacking

Significant strides in females obtaining doctorates in the STEM fields have been made over the past four decades, but there is a catch.

“More women than ever are obtaining Ph.D.s in science, but these women are more likely than their male counterparts to leave the tenure pipeline before obtaining tenure at a college or university,” Koppes Bryan said.

Tenure provides job security for professors, protecting them so they can freely practice independence in their teaching.

Requirements for earning tenure vary from department to department at UWF, but all include presenting evidence of strong performance in teaching, research and service to the University, academic discipline or community. Research can include either creative activity or scholarly activity. Both research and scholarship must be externally reviewed, according to the 2011-2012 Tenure and Promotion policy posted on the Division of Academic Affairs website.

UWF math and science department mostly male

“A woman faculty member may be forced to choose between furthering her teaching career at a university and having a family,” Koppes Bryan said. “Our research will examine ways to better foster a positive work-life balance.”

Currently, there are no female professors in the physics or electrical and computer engineering departments at UWF, said Leo Ter Haar, director of the School of Science and Engineering.

Computer science only has three female faculty members out of 10, said Sikha Bagui, associate professor of computer science.

The mathematics department lists four out of 15 faculty members as females, said Kuiyuan Li, professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

In contrast, the School of Psychological and Behavioral Sciences has 11 females among 18 full-time faculty members, according to the department’s website. The School of Education has 17 females out of 25 members of faculty, according to the department’s website.

It is obvious that the STEM departments are lacking female employees, but why is this so important?

UWF strives to recruit and retain talented, diverse faculty and staff members who demonstrate commitment to UWF ideals, according to UWF’s strategic priorities and measurable achievements plan.

UWF represents diversity in having a female president Judy Bense, and a female provost and vice president for academic affairs, Chula King.  Also, two of three deans of the colleges at UWF are female: Jane Halonen, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Pam Northrup, dean of the College of Professional Studies.

“Persistent under-representation of women faculty may affect all students’ critically important relationships with mentors, participation as members of research and education teams, and self-identification as potential researchers,” Koppes Bryan said.

Now that the research group has been awarded the grant, members can begin planning how to ensure that the money is as influential as possible.

Researchers plan to use funds over next five years

“The team will meet to review the proposed activities and develop a work statement that outlines the tasks and timeline for completing the project over the next five years,” Koppes Bryan said. “We will also convene a meeting of a UWF Internal Steering Committee for the project for their guidance, and begin to create an External Advisory Board that will also provide advice and direction.”

Some ideas proposed so far include mentoring for STEM department students, building a website with resources and networking connections, and implementing strategies to foster a work-life friendly climate for female STEM students, Koppes Bryan said.

Jade Hoy
Staff Writer

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