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DSU STEM Institute re-invented to focus on space science

April 16, 2018

The 2018 STEM Institute at Dakota State University will have “something for everyone,” said assistant professor of physics Dr. James Maloney.

The biennial program began in 2014, giving up to 20 incoming freshmen with STEM interests the opportunity to learn about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through activities, peer learning, and real-world industry examples. A majority of the students attending the week-long camps were computer science majors.

For 2018, the focus has been re-invented to focus on astronomy, rocketry, and space science.

“This redesign will continue to make it interesting for those students,” Maloney said, by introducing STEM concepts of physics, math, chemistry through space science activities such as a nighttime star party, launching rockets, and field trips to visit local business partners EROS and Raven Industries. Participants will also be involved in research projects on topics such as conservation of energy, fuel cells, and an introduction to the computational side of technology. This variety of programming will “expose the students to many different areas of STEM,” he stated, so that students may decide to branch out, taking additional science courses in a variety of subject matter.

Because STEM majors can be rigorous, there will be sessions to build strong study habits, develop reading and writing skills, and establish peer relationships. Through these exercises, “we hope to help those students succeed in these challenging courses,” Maloney said.

The original intent of the institute was to improve student recruitment and retention, and data show that about 85 percent of students who participated in 2014 and 2016 remained in STEM majors. It was so successful that much feedback requested ongoing support activities.

This feature has been included in the 2018 program, with talks and other activities planned monthly. “These events also give students the chance to network with other STEM students, and build a mentor network,” Maloney said. Students who are unable to attend the summer institute will also be able to benefit from the monthly activities.

This program rework is also generating a springboard for cross-disciplinary collaborations. Fellow faculty members, DSU College of Education professors Dr. Mark Geary and Dr. Jennifer Nash, are developing curriculum for outreach opportunities, creating discrete models for College of Education students to take to local high schools.

Dr. Michael Gaylor, program director from 2016, said success with these new features of the program “will provide compelling data to fund this institute on an annual basis.”

For 2018-2019, the re-invented program has received funding from the South Dakota Space Grant Consortium, and a university Innovation grant. Total costs for the year are just over $30,000, said Maloney.

DSU freshmen who are interested in the program may contact Maloney at james.maloney@dsu.edu, or call the department office at 605-256-5194.