STEM Initiatives

Duke and NC State Launch Joint Program To Stimulate K-12 STEM Interest

The engineering deans of Duke University and North Carolina State University have jointly announced the National Academy of Engineering's (NAE) establishment of the Grand Challenge K-12 Partners Program, aimed at inspiring interest in science and technology among primary and secondary school students nationwide.

Grand Challenge will enlist colleges of engineering from around the country to act as regional program partners. These partner institutions would each take on a variety of tasks aimed at encouraging interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in their respective communities and regions. Partners would provide engineering materials and curricula aimed at K-12 students according to their levels of science education, as well as professional development for teachers; host regional STEM conferences; and share the materials they develop and their resulting experiences on the program Web site.

The goal of the program is, in effect, to make technology education an integral part of a student's entire school career, rather than require them to wait until college to immerse themselves in it. "We can accomplish so much by introducing engineering at the K-12 level, such as influencing technology literacy early on and cultivating a mindset to address big societal problems," said Tom Katsouleas, dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke U. "We also hope that by teaching youngsters to develop a problem-solving orientation to the world, something we call 'engineering habits of mind,' we may also encourage more students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. That is good for the country."

The "grand challenges" that give the program its name are those defined by the NAE for engineering in the 21st century, specifically a group of security, energy, health, and quality-of-life issues that must be addressed and solved for the betterment of the human race. Among these issues are: making solar energy economical; providing access to clean water; securing Internet communications; preventing nuclear terror; reverse-engineering the human brain; engineering better medicines; and several others. Links to details on each challenge, as well as a video overview of the grand challenges, can be found here.

"The Grand Challenges for Engineering provide an important framework for highlighting the critical integrative role that our field plays in enhancing science, technology, engineering and mathematics initiatives nationwide," said Louis Martin-Vega, dean of the College of Engineering at North Carolina State U. and former acting head of the Engineering Directorate at the National Science Foundation.

The two universities are expecting to help build momentum for the Grand Challenge program with a series of summits being held this spring at various locations throughout the country: Arizona State University in Tempe (Phoenix), AZ; a joint summit held in Chicago by Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois; a joint summit held in Boston by Wellesley College and Babson College, both in Wellesley, MA, and Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, MA; the University of Washington in Seattle; and a final summit at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in October. For details about the summits, please visit the program Web site.

About the Author

Scott Aronowitz is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. He has covered the technology, advertising, and entertainment sectors for seven years. He can be reached here.