Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts

Visions for a Robust 21st Century STEM Learning Environment

May 15, 2006

Both research and practice confirm that a clear and compelling vision is essential if demonstrable and sustainable progress is to be realized toward achieving the ambitions and aspirations of a particular community.

Continuing an examination of ideas and insights captured in the PKAL Report on Reports II, 2006, we begin to explore the nature of visions expressed by the various national and academic organizations. Even given the particular perspective of the authoring groups– the visions are in sync. The brisk calls for a nation of learners and a nation of innovators are alone a starting point from which the broad community of stakeholders can proceed in shaping the future of undergraduate STEM.

Academic leaders for many years have been pursuing the visions implicit and explicit in these public calls to action. PKAL’s initial vision (1991) of what works has been a catalyst for local leaders in pursuit of a robust learning environment for their undergraduate STEM community.

Some of these institutional visions emerge as academic leaders consider new spaces that will accommodate the science, the pedagogies, and the technologies they envision for the STEM learning community on their campus. Reports and essays from four campuses involved with facilities planning underscore this point. Hamilton College opened its facility this fall; St. Olaf College and Brooklyn College (both PKAL Leadership Initiative Institutions [LI]) are in the planning stages. Imaging “community” in the process of imaging a new science facility is the theme of an essay from St. Lawrence University (PKAL LI institution).

The more than sixty colleges and universities collaborating in PKAL’s Leadership Initiative have been involved in shaping their vision as a prelude to developing goals appropriate to their distinctive mission and current circumstances. We present current versions of vision statements from two PKAL LI campuses: Lewis and Clark College and Washington and Jefferson College.

In 1995 PKAL invited some leaders in STEM reform at that time to imagine the undergraduate STEM world of 2025. Their reflections, which continue to be a touchstone for PKAL efforts, can inform "imagining" exercises by leadership groups in other settings today. At several PKAL meetings in the past year, the focus on visioning has involved "at-the-table" discussing and drawing visions of the "ideal" graduate, another approach to working toward a collective vision within a department or at the institutional level. In 1999, PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century were asked for their thoughts about what undergraduate STEM would be like in 2009; excerpts from two statements are included here as well.

NOTE: The call for nominations for PKAL Faculty 21, Class of 2006, poses a similar question, “what will undergraduate STEM be like in 2016, given the urgency of new challenges and opportunities facing our nation?” Further responses this question will be captured in the registration form for the PKAL F21 2006 Assembly (October 6 -8, 2006), with discussions about a collective vision of the future taking place on Sunday morning of the Assembly.