Porterfield addresses need to improve STEM programs at White House workshop

By Steven Viera, News Editor ||

Dan Porterfield, president of the College, spoke at a White House workshop on Monday, Sept. 22, where he discussed the need to strengthen programs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and improve their accessibility to students from around the nation.

Held at the University of Colorado, Boulder, the STEM Education Workshop hosted four speakers: Russell Moore, provost of the University of Colorado, Boulder; Rebecca Blank, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Jo Handelsman, associate director for science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP); and Porterfield. The four gave speeches and participated in sessions addressing STEM education at the college level.

Porterfield also addressed the topic of STEM education at the White House’s Higher Education Seminar last January, where he discussed F&M’s ongoing efforts to recruit and maintain STEM-interested students from all backgrounds.

“The White House invited me to represent F&M’s STEM efforts and speak on our progress on the commitments we shared in January,” Porterfield said. “I was honored to be able to share with some of the nation’s most eminent thought leaders and policy makers the progress F&M has made in knocking down barriers, providing opportunities and supporting successful outcomes for our students in the STEM fields.”

In his speech, mentioned statistics surrounding students who study in STEM fields, particularly students from minority backgrounds, but also presented a more human element to his remarks.

“Isn’t it a tragedy to imagine the cure for Alzheimer’s locked in the mind of a 5th grader who won’t take science in college because we haven’t built a robust STEM pipeline?” he asked.

Porterfield also discussed measures F&M is taking to attract students from all backgrounds while improving its STEM programs, such as opening the Quantitative & Science Center (Q&SC) to offer tutoring services to students taking STEM classes and changing the curriculum to include Connections courses to focus on teaching basic skills.

Another major initiative is F&M’s partnership with the Posse Foundation, which offers a cohort of ten students full-tuition for four years, with a new cohort recruited each year. In 2011, F&M became the first liberal arts institution to agree to host a STEM Posse, and students from that program are drawn from Miami, Florida. Each year, F&M receives $100,000 to continue to provide full scholarships to Posse students.

“None of our first 19 STEM Posse students have dropped out or taken a leave of absence,” Porterfield said in his remarks. “After four semesters, our first STEM Posse cohort has earned a higher GPA in a science- and math-heavy curriculum than their class as a whole.”

Porterfield also discussed the work of Donnell Butler ’95, senior associate dean of the College, who works to ensure that all students have a smooth, successful transition to college life, as well developing ways to assess student progress and achievement to continue improving the student experience.

“Talented students come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, and from every type of community, across the country and around the world,” Porterfield said. “We believe that top colleges and universities — whose graduates comprise the overwhelming majority of leaders in many fields—have a responsibility to educate the full American mosaic. It improves the education of every student on campus to have the range of experiences and perspectives as part of our learning inside and outside the classroom.”


Junior Steven Viera is the News Editor. His email is sviera@fandm.edu.

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