Mississippi State hosts summit on informal STEM learning

Contact: Karen Brasher

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Statewide leaders met recently at Mississippi State to discuss opportunities to broaden participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, learning by rural Mississippi K-12 students.

The summit on informal STEM education in rural communities was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation and brought together university faculty, scientists, public educators, communication and media experts, community leadership experts, industry leaders and museum and science center staff to identify impediments and opportunities to engaging youth in the sciences. The grant was awarded from the NSF’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning program.

STEM education is recognized as essential in today’s information and advanced manufacturing economy. Informal education is that which occurs outside a traditional classroom instructional format. It occurs through a diversity of learning venues, including afterschool programs, youth development programs such as 4-H and scouting, camps, libraries, educational media, science centers and museums.

“Informal learning can create awareness and interest in STEM and enhance classroom learning,” said Leslie Burger, event coordinator and assistant extension professor MSU’s College of Forest Resources. “However, it may be more challenging for rural youth to engage in these educational opportunities because of limited awareness and access. This summit focused on how to improve informal STEM learning participation by Mississippi’s rural students.”

The event included representatives from the NASA John C. Stennis Space Center; U.S. Geological Survey; Toyota Mississippi; Entergy; Mississippi Public Broadcasting; Mississippi Library Commission; Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality; Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks; University of Southern Mississippi; Mississippi State University; East Mississippi Community College; Hinds Community College; Piney Woods School; Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science; Mississippi Aquarium; INFINITY Science Center; CREATE Foundation; Mississippi Statewide Afterschool Network and Mississippi Robotics Association. 

Participants discussed common barriers to informal STEM learning such as transportation limitations, affordability, as well as awareness and greater networking and collaborative opportunities among educators, organizations and industries with vested interests in improving STEM literacy among the state’s youth.

In addition to Burger, the Mississippi State team included Vemitra White, director of educational outreach and support programs in the Bagley College of Engineering; Sarah Lee, associate clinical professor and assistant department head for the Department of Computer Science and Engineering; Katie Echols, director of research analysis and support for the Office of Research and Economic Development, and associate extension professor Donna Peterson in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences’ School of Human Science.

To learn more about opportunities to advance STEM education, contact Burger at 662-325-6686 or at leslie.burger@msstate.edu.

MSU is the state’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.