By Trevor Havard, College of Education intern

NelsonVANCOUVER, Wash. – Research into STEM education in grades K-8 will be taken statewide with funding from the College of Education Berry Family Fellowship recently won by Tamara Nelson, professor of teaching and learning at Washington State University Vancouver.

“President Obama is talking about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and the National Science Foundation is funding STEM endeavors – all in response to the perception, or even reality, that we are not producing enough graduates to step into jobs like engineering or tech industries with mathematics backgrounds,” Nelson said. “STEM education will not only help people find work in the 21st century, but will also help them deal with living conditions in the 21st century.”

“Tamara is highly qualified to conduct her proposed research project, which has the potential to significantly impact teachers, leaders and students engaged in STEM education and addresses a state and national priority,” said Tim Church, the college’s associate dean for research.

Little is known about how STEM education manifests in elementary and middle school settings, despite a growing pressure on K-8 teachers to teach their students science and math concepts and about how those apply in the real world.

With the $12,500 fellowship, Nelson will travel to schools around the state to observe teachers’ implementation and assessment of STEM projects and student engagement in STEM practices and concepts.

“I’m very excited because we’ve been doing this research on STEM education in the local area, and I want to take it statewide,” she said.

She said she hopes the results of her research can be built upon to create national applications for STEM education.

She also plans to apply her findings in her WSU classroom.

“It always feeds back into teaching,” she said. “I’ll be able to modify my own teaching to address what is going on in the field. This will help prepare new teachers to enter their classrooms with better understanding.”

The Berry Family Fellowship is awarded to a tenure-track faculty member with an active research program that aligns with the strategic plans of WSU and the college.

“It is a very competitive award given to a COE faculty member who demonstrates excellence in both research and the classroom,” Church said. “It supports unique projects that can lead to larger externally funded grants.”