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Dean Gallagher addresses the future of STEM on Aerospace Corporation panel

Spotlights Math for America and USC Hybrid High School as models of success

By Katherine Mechling

 

STEM careers are stimulating, rewarding and consistently lucrative—the average salary across all STEM fields is 1.7 times as high as the average for other occupations. So why has research consistently shown that American students lose interest in STEM shortly after high school?

On August 26, Dean Karen Symms Gallagher addressed this topic as a featured expert at a panel hosted by the Aerospace Corporation. “Inspiring the Next Generation: Shaping the Future of STEM” also featured panelists Christopher Roe, president and CEO of the California STEM Learning Network, and Lilly Kam, STEM Director of the i.am.angel Foundation. Serving as moderator was Val Zavala, vice president of news and public affairs at KCET.

“In order to produce more engaged, committed STEM learners, we must first ensure that students have access to knowledgeable, well-trained, and highly motivated STEM teachers.”
—Dean Karen Symms Gallagher

Aerospace Corporation President and CEO Wanda Austin framed the crisis in STEM engagement as a crisis in marketing. “It may seem like STEM should sell itself,” she wrote in a post after the event, “but the fact remains: it does not! As a result, we need to change the way we talk about STEM.”

Dean Karen Symms Gallagher with Dr. Wanda Austin, president and CEO of the Aerospace Corporation.

Dean Karen Symms Gallagher with Dr. Wanda Austin, president and CEO of the Aerospace Corporation.

Gallagher discussed ways to increase student interest in STEM fields, emphasizing the importance of teachers in the equation. “In order to produce more engaged, committed STEM learners,” said Gallagher, “we must first ensure that students have access to knowledgeable, well-trained and highly motivated STEM teachers.”

Gallagher highlighted Math for America as an example of a successful initiative aimed at bolstering the supply of influential math teachers in high-needs districts. Math for America Los Angeles, founded in 2008 by USC Rossier in partnership with Claremont Graduate University and Harvey Mudd College, trains recent college graduates and mid-year professionals who are gifted in math and committed to teaching math in high-needs public schools. Retention in the program and the field has been high, and students have reported significantly higher perceptions of their MfA math teacher than students in a control group.

Gallagher also used the opportunity to spotlight another Rossier initiative: USC Hybrid High School. Founded in 2012 by USC Rossier with charter management company Ednovate Inc., this innovative college preparatory public charter school in downtown Los Angeles utilizes a blended learning model in which students combine more traditional in-class learning with self-paced, online study. Immersion in this hybridized learning environment has resulted in an increase student performance on the math section of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE). Ednovate’s new school, USC East College Prep, which opened in August in Lincoln Heights, will build on this success.

“We realize that the future of our company, and our society, rests in the hands of the next generation of engineers and scientists,” said Austin. “It is essential that our students have the resources and access that they need to excel in STEM. By gathering together tonight, to discuss our ideas and solutions, I know that we are taking a significant step in the right direction.”