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Developing the skills STEM students don't learn in the lab
Developing the skills STEM students don't learn in the lab

Degree and training programs cannot and should not be expected to teach students the full breadth of skills they'll need to succeed in their careers. As such, there is a need to supplement the development of social and communication skills, character traits, and personal attributes that enable successful interactions in the workplace. To impart these essential skills upon students and increase diversity in science and engineering fields, this fall quarter Dr. Marilyn Rampersad Mackiewicz is offering Empowering and Advancing Women and Underrepresented Students in STEM senior capstone course. The class is based on the philosophy that success and growth in STEM fields come from integrating both research and professional experiences.

Capstone courses are designed by Portland State University faculty members to build cooperative learning communities by taking students out of the classroom and into the field. In Mackiewicz's Empowering and Advancing Women and Underrepresented Students in STEM course, PSU seniors work with area high school students enrolled in the Saturday Academy's Apprenticeships in Science and Engineering (ASE) program, Oregon Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA), and Girls Inc.

Throughout the ten-week term, students enrolled in the capstone course learn and practice skills such as effective communication, building leadership capacity and self-confidence, negotiation, networking, mentoring, and professional development. At the end of the term, the PSU students design and host an interactive workshop for the ASE program participants during which they transfer some of the knowledge they've gained to their younger counterparts.

"These are skills everyone needs to be successful in their careers," Mackiewicz said. "By placing emphasis on helping women and underrepresented students in STEM fields acquire them, we can contribute to efforts to increase diversity, which will enhance creativity as well as the breadth and quality of leadership in engineering and the sciences."

Students enrolled in the course emphasized the value of the content they learned, such as the impacts of the lack of diversity and inclusivity in STEM fields, the benefits of mentorship, and how to analyze barriers to equity and implicit bias in STEM fields. They bring experiences and culturally relevant pedagogical knowledge from their local communities into the classroom enriching the learning environment for their fellow students and the high schoolers they transfer their knowledge to.

"What I learned in this course is that success in our career or graduate school isn't just about whether you're qualified to do the work," said Rosey Le, a PSU alumnus who is now studying hibernation and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she is a Ph.D. student. "It's also about whether you can get along with people, how well you communicate and knowing when to be flexible."

The Empowering and Advancing Women and Underrepresented Students in STEM capstone course will be offered in the Fall Quarter 2018: UNST 421, CRN 14650, T-Th 10 - 10:50 a.m.