Engaging the whole campus: efforts to create a STEM-literate undergraduate population at Princeton

Tuesday 3:45pm REC Center Large Ice Overlook Room
Oral Presentation Part of Collaborating Across the Curriculum

Author

Catherine Riihimaki, Princeton University
The Council on Science and Technology at Princeton University fosters education, research, and intellectual exchange that deepen and broaden understanding, experience, and appreciation of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The Council partners with engineering, mathematics, natural sciences, the arts, humanities, and social sciences to explore and promote the relation of STEM with culture and the course of public affairs. Geosciences and Environmental Studies programs are two groups with whom we collaborate, working to foster improved environmental citizenship by helping students develop a mechanistic understanding of our individual, societal, and global role as agents of environmental change; an ability to predict or forecast the potential impact that decisions may have on the future structure and function of Earth systems; and a sense of responsibility that leads to informed action and decision-making related to environmental issues. Toward those ends, we have 1) reframed course curricula to more explicitly address the intersection between science and society, 2) developed hands-on exercises that are accessible to and motivate students from a variety of disciplines, and 3) modified course assessments to ensure that the students have consistent and clear indications of their mastery of the material. For example, I developed a laboratory exercise on paleoclimate proxies in which students visit the Princeton Art Museum to discuss whether art can be used as historic records of what the environmental conditions were like when the art was made. Through the course of the exercise, students develop guidelines for how to use proxies to make paleoclimate interpretations more robust, with particular emphasis on needing multiple, independent proxies to overcome potential confounding factors. Students' feedback was very positive, and we are exploring opportunities for further collaboration with the Art Museum as a means of engaging students from the humanities in science and engineering concepts.