STEME Education at NYU Steinhardt: Answering the Nation’s Call to Excellence

What if we lived in a world where all children had access to a high-quality education, where education was fun and deeply engaging, and where everyone was scientifically literate?” were questions posed by Jhumki Basu, former associate professor of science education, at NYU Steinhardt.

During her too brief career – she died of breast cancer at 31 – Professor Basu was passionately devoted to pursuing the answer to her big questions. As a faculty member at NYU, she studied youth agency and democratic practice in science education and conducted research on access, equity, and achievement for urban youth in science. The insights she gleaned from hands-on work with children, teachers, and administrators in New York and California public schools informed her teaching and gave energy to her mission to advance the state of science education.

To honor their daughter’s vision Radha and Dipak Basu, have made a gift through the Jhumki Basu Foundation to launch Steinhardt’s STEMEEducation and Research Center. The Center’s purpose is to prepare highly effective teachers of STEME subjects and toconduct research on how teachers learn to teach STEME subjects and how children best come toknow, understand and do science and math.

STEME:   A Foundation for Students Who Will Tackle Global Questions

The multidisciplinary fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and environmental education, known as STEME, offer students some of the best opportunities to make sense of the world holistically.

“Many of the problems that are facing us today, from climate change, nuclear power, and stem cell research, have very strong scientific or technological components to them,” says Dan Stein, NYU’s dean for science and professor of physics and mathematics. He notes that without scientific and mathematic literacy, citizens will have no basis to evaluate one argument against another or to make informed decisions about policies that will shape the future of the planet.

“Since the consequences of these decisions are going to have a tremendous impact on the world for decades to come, serious, good, and stimulating K through 12 STEME education is essential,” Stein says.

Science at the STEME Center: A State-of-the-Art Facility for Cutting Edge Research and Technology

With additional gifts from Cisco, Charlotte Frank, and Kaplow Communications, the STEME Education and Research Center willoffer a state-of-the-art facility where teaching strategies can be imagined, developed, and studied through the use of advanced video, conferencing, and cloud technology.

The Center will provide both virtual and physical spaces where the local and global STEME education community members can connect with each other.

It will be home to science education faculty members, Susan Kirch, Catherine Milne, and Pamela Fraser-Abder, who study global and cultural issues in teaching and teacher preparation.

Kirch is the principal investigator of a the two-year exploratory project entitled “The Scientific Thinker Project. Funded by a $448,800 grant from the National Science Foundation, Kirch and co-investigators Catherine Milne of NYU and Anna Stetsenko of CUNY, are developing and testing two science curricular modules that provoke questions about scientific evidence. The modules use real-world problems to engage the thinking of a group of third and fourth grade students in the New York City public schools.

The work Kirch is undertaking aims to devise approaches that educators can use to teach the nature of scientific evidence to young people, “a population of students that is routinely underestimated,” she says.

Fraser-Abder is the principal investigator ofa three-year, $2.1 million grant from the New York State Education Department’s “Race to the Top Fund.” The grant supports a teacher residency pilot program aimed at improving teacher preparation and retention in the sciences.

Students in the program will undertake a year of clinically rich study and practice, graduating with a master’s degree in science education. As part of their coursework, they will use the New York Botanical Garden, the New York Hall of Science, and the American Museum of Natural History to generate curricula and refine their teaching skills.

Moving Students Beyond Rote Memorization to Scientific Inquiry

Engaging urban children in science education was Jhumki Basu’s life’s work. As an educational researcher, she knew that the teacher was the first point of engagement in the complex dynamic of science literacy. Professor Basu understood that a teacher who motivates her students by inspiring them to develop their capacities as innovators, explorers, and investigators delivers on the promise of science education.

“An outstanding educator is someone who can make students feel like no time has gone by,” says Kirch. “When we describe a student as “engaged in science,” we mean that a child is absorbed in learning in a way that they want more.”