December 3, 2020

Webster launches STEMM, new approach for five areas of study

During convocation on Aug. 16, President Elizabeth Stroble and Provost Julian Schuster highlighted six areas Webster University need to strengthen. Schuster called for the formation of a faculty and staff working group to study how the university can develop in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medical (STEMM) fields. The end goal for Webster is to grow the undergraduate student population, increase retention and graduation rates, and improve the university’s rankings.
Webster’s increased focus on STEMM follows a federal STEM initiative to increase enrollment, training and employment in those areas. Webster added the additional “M” to STEM to add emphasis on medicine. Medicine’s presence in Webster’s vision is a nod to growth in the nursing field and its place in Webster’s degree offerings.
“All institutions will do some sort of STEM,” said Brian Crouse, vice president of education programs for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce. “The difference between what Webster University does with their STEMM and what Missouri University of Science and Technology does with their STEM is going to be totally different because of the difference in mission.”
Linda Dahlgren, grant officer for Webster University, explained the growth is not specific to Webster but the general state of STEM education funding.
“I’ve seen a lot of growth in funding for STEM education,” Dahlgren said. “It’s everywhere.”
The National Science Foundation has increased the variety and number of STEM grants they offer. Other funders ­— private, federal and corporate — have incorporated STEM into their traditional funding interests. Each funder has its own agenda, but the overall trend is to encourage young people to pursue STEM fields in college and in their careers. The impact on students across the nation varies widely. It includes new courses like K-12 outreach, teaching innovations, research opportunities, and scholarships. In addition, many STEM initiatives are tied to support for minority and female students. This is in an effort to build a population of STEM professionals that better reflects the U.S. as a whole Dahlgren said.
Once the working group is formed, one of its first tasks will be to list all STEMM-related fields at Webster, Barbara O’Malley, Webster’s chief communications officer, said in an email.
“Areas of study such as Webster’s nursing, behavior and biological sciences, math and computer science would be considered STEMM, but there are probably many others that will be considered STEMM too,” O’Malley said.
In regard to STEMM in communications, Julia Griffey, assistant professor in the electronic and photographic media department, said it takes a specific kind of knowledge.
“To have a good understanding of your tools, you really have to understand how they work, and there is a lot of technology involved in all that,” Griffey said.
An important step in Webster’s plan for its STEMM initiative is the interdisciplinary sciences building, O’Malley said. Plans for a science building will provide more classroom and research space.
“Currently, we have one chemistry lab, three biology labs and one physics lab,” said Stephanie Schroeder, chair in the department of biological sciences.  “Our chemistry lab is used for general and organic chemistry and there is only one three-hour block of time that is not scheduled Monday through Friday.”
Schroeder said she hopes the science building will give the biology department classroom space and dedicated research space.
Registered nursing is projected to be one of the fastest growing occupations in Missouri. According to a Missouri Economic Research and Information Center study, there is a 17.3 percent expected growth in the field between 2008 and 2018. Webster University offers multiple degrees in the fields of nursing and nurse anesthesia.
“With the health care system in combination with the economic conditions of today, the future is trending towards the utilization of advance practice nurses,” said Jill M. Stulce, director of the nurse anesthesia program. “I would personally like to grow this program into a couple different directions to include physical therapy and nurse practitioners.”
According to the Missouri Math and Science Coalition, Missouri faces a severe shortage of STEM educators in state public schools. Webster University’s education department has been involved in meetings regarding the St. Louis STEM Initiative.
“Our students know that science and math are high-needs areas,” said Dr. Theodore Green, chair of the education department. “There is a demand to fill those positions, and students are almost guaranteed a job, especially in urban areas.”
The working group is being formed. It will include full-time and part-time faculty and staff from around Webster’s worldwide network.

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