Initial Publication Date: June 4, 2018

JMU Center for STEM Education and Outreach: new leadership and new opportunities

Kerry Cresawn, James Madison University

The JMU Center for STEM Education and Outreach was created in 2007 with the following mission:

"To foster high-quality science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for all students in grades K-12. We work with students, educators, parents, policymakers and the general public by supporting high-quality curriculum and professional development and sharing the many resources of JMU faculty, staff, and students with schools across Virginia. We serve as a point of collaboration and connection for faculty and staff on campus and we collaborate with internal and external partners on sponsored projects to improve STEM learning and teaching."

The Center is served by faculty and students from three colleges: The Colleges of Science and Mathematics, Integrated Science and Engineering, and Education. For the first 10 years, the Center has been led by three co-directors; one from each college, who all receive 0.25 course buy-out each semester. These co-directors report to the provost and are advised by the Deans of the three colleges.

During this time, the Center's primary focus was to match faculty and students interested in K-12 outreach to K-12 needs. The Center also works closely with JMU's Office of Outreach and Engagement to facilitate and inform their K-12 STEM-related program development and implementation.

In Spring 2017, the provost announced a new line for a full-time director to dedicate 100% effort to the Center. After a national search, the position was offered to a faculty member in JMU's Biology department who had developed numerous K-12 outreach programs over the past 10 years and developed content-based courses and programs for pre-service teachers. This new leadership, starting July 1st, creates opportunities to re-evaluate the Center's vision and goals; centralize the many STEM outreach efforts on campus to better support the faculty and their departments; recruit and prepare more JMU STEM and Education faculty and students to be purposefully engaged in the K-12 community; and to strengthen current community partnerships and build new ones.

The Center's most successful communication strategy has been to host bi-annual breakfast meetings for K-12 STEM administrators and program leaders to share their successes, struggles, and needs with each other and with a group of outreach dedicated STEM and Education faculty. The invitation to this event also comes with an electronic newsletter that advertises opportunities on campus and introduction of any new leadership. The Center has a website, which is primarily used to advertise local K-12 STEM programs and resources. The Center has strived to be a central point of contact for teachers interested in field trips and other STEM resources but has struggled to be equally visible to all target districts and other community partners.

The Center's primary audience is the surrounding K-12 community, which encompasses 28 localities. Second to that, the Center would like to be more visible to JMU STEM and Education faculty and students. Collectively, the Center aims to be recognized as "the place to go" for JMU faculty interested in K-12 STEM outreach and for K-12 teachers, administrators, and parents searching for opportunities. Creating effective communication products is an essential component for this.