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Press Release 13-105
STEM Graduate Education Challenge Prompts Hundreds to Offer Ideas for Improvements

Challenge launched by National Science Foundation reveals desire to reshape graduate education according to todays increasingly global and interdisciplinary practice of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)

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Illustration showing the cell body of a neuron

The cell body of a neuron is shown here. Submissions to the Innovation in Graduate Education Challenge represented a broad range of STEM disciplines.

Credit: Thinkstock

 

Kevin Disotell, first-place winner

Kevin Disotell is an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and Ph.D. candidate in aerospace engineering at The Ohio State University. Studying under Prof. James Gregory, his research interests focus on the unsteady fluid mechanics of dynamic stall for helicopters, fighter jets, and wind turbine applications.

With his submission--Opening the Doors of STEM Graduate Education: A Collaborative, Web-Based Approach to Unlocking Student Pathways--he proposed a low-cost, high-impact tool with national scope to facilitate coordination among the stakeholders in STEM graduate education by establishing a web-based gateway to function as an educational "passport" for graduate students,  helping them plan their degree journeys while benefiting from the assistance of a broad support network. The portal would be tailored to the STEM graduate community and comprise several dimensions: a searchable database for advisor matching, personal degree management tools, access to career development resources from prospective employers, a job database powered by STEM employers, a centralized listing of funding opportunities, and a publicly-accessible forum for communicating research work to broad audiences.

Credit: Kevin Disotell


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Clare Fieseler, second-place winner of STEM Graduate Education Challenge

Second-place winner Clare Fieseler is the team lead for the Scientists with Stories Project. She is a Ph.D. student in ecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2010, she received a master's degree from Duke University. She has collaborated extensively with conservation groups, tackling issues related to coral reefs and climate change. Before choosing a career in science, she worked in film production at National Geographic Television.

The Scientists with Stories Project started as an idea, formulated by students frustrated by the chasm between scientists and the public. This idea has been implemented on the small scale at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. Its goal, however, is nationally relevant: empower the next generation of scientists to not simply distill facts but share the wonder and relevance of science beyond the ivory tower. Audio, photography, and web video lend themselves to narrative structure and public dissemination. Fieseler proposed in collaboration with her peers, an instructional initiative for STEM curricula that empowers students to master digital media, share research through narrative, and serve community needs.

Credit: Clare Fieseler


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The Parasite Ladies, three graduate students in ecology

Second-place winners, "The Parasite Ladies"--Dara Satterfield (lead), Sara Heisel and Sarah Budischak--are graduate students in the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia. They regularly meet over dinner to talk about parasite ecology, research ideas, or recent papers in their field. Their proposal--Retaining Women in STEM Careers: Graduate Students as the Building Blocks of Change--offers three improvements to graduate education to help retain and advance women in STEM fields: (1) preparing graduate students to overcome career obstacles through mentorship and dialogues about career decisions and work-life balance; (2) targeting the subtle biases and stereotypes that hinder the advancement of women; and (3) empowering graduate students to improve universities and STEM workplaces to be more flexible and equitable. Their proposed ideas will fill a gap in current women-in-science initiatives by targeting graduate students as they progress through their graduate education and begin making career decisions.

Credit: Dara Satterfield


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Elyse Aurbach and Katherine Prater

The Future Ira Flatows, Elyse Aurbach (lead) and Katherine Prater are graduate students studying anxiety and depression in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Michigan. Winners of the Community Choice prize, their submission was titled, Researchers Expanding Lay-Audience Teaching and Engagement. Through their previous experiences in outreach and education, they have realized a passion for promoting lay-audience communication, especially for the biological sciences. They are particularly enthusiastic about their proposed project RELATE, because it directly combines lay-audience engagement training with community service to target adults underserved by outreach efforts.

Credit: Elyse Aurbach


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