Jan Taylor: STEM education not just for kids (Daily Mail)


I believe that all kids are little scientists. This is especially evident when they ask all those “why” and “how” questions.

By ensuring they continue to experience the fun and excitement of science as they grow older, we can create a new generation of scientists, researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs who will, in turn, grow our state’s economy.

But, is it possible to reignite a love of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in people who are a little older? We at the Higher Education Policy Commission’s Division of Science and Research believe it’s more than possible.

The idea is simple: promote the STEM fields in West Virginia in order to renew a love of science in people, encourage more support for the STEM fields and promote scientific research in our state.

One strategy is the Chancellor’s STEM Speaker Series. Hopefully you’ve heard of it. We’ve had the privilege of hosting Alexandra Cousteau (Jacques Cousteau’s granddaughter); John Medina, author of “Brain Rules”; Steven Squyres, a researcher, astronomer and the voice of NASA’s mission to Mars; Leonard Mlodinow, a theoretical physicist; Bill Nye the Science Guy; and, mostly recently, Joel Sartore, founder of the Photo Ark.

By bringing nationally renowned speakers to the state, we intend to connect West Virginians with fascinating science topics and with the people who are passionate about them.

In fact, our next speaker series event is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 8. It features Dr. Jennifer Gardy, a senior scientist at the BC (British Columbia) Centre for Disease Control and an occasional guest host for “Nature of Things,” a documentary series on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Her talk, titled Bugs, Bones and Botany, will focus on the science of crime investigation and how careful observation of the natural world can help crack a cold case. It will take place at the Culture Center Theater. Details are available at wvresearch.org.

We have had a wonderful audience at each of our past events, and we plan to keep the STEM energy alive with Jennifer Gardy.

Along the same lines, the Division of Science and Research has created a video series featuring West Virginia scientists explaining their work in short, two-minute documentary-style videos. Because there is so much groundbreaking, and potentially groundbreaking, research happening in our state, there is much to learn. Check out the videos at wvresearch.org.

Finally, our office produces a quarterly magazine called The Neuron that highlights science and research news from our state’s colleges and universities. Contact the editor, Amanda Ramey, at amanda.ramey@wvresearch.org for a free subscription.

We’re pleased to be able to provide all of these STEM education opportunities with support from a federal grant from the National Science Foundation. To stay up-to-date on our work and the latest in STEM news, be sure to follow us on social media.

Bottom line: it’s never too late to develop or reawaken a love of science, research or discovery.

Jan Taylor is director of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission’s Division of Science and Research.