College of Education to focus on STEM, cultural and linguistic diversity

Larry Flick stands in front of Education Hall, which is undergoing a major renovation. Flick has been named the College of Education's associate dean for academic affairs. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

As its historic home undergoes extensive physical remodeling, the College of Education at Oregon State University is moving ahead on an academic transformation that will focus research and teaching in two key areas.

Education dean Sam Stern said the college is reorganizing its programming to focus on two major areas – science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, and cultural and linguistic diversity.

As a first step in this reorganization, the college has announced that Larry Flick will become its associate dean for academic affairs. Flick chairs the Department of Science and Math Education in the College of Science and his new duties will span both colleges.

Stern says this kind of cross-college collaboration offers greater potential for innovative work, especially now that the College of Science and the College of Education are part of the same division, the Division of Arts and Sciences. “I think the division arrangement offers to us huge opportunities that are very different than simply merging colleges,” Stern said. “The sooner we move on those, the sooner we can get on with doing some really interesting things.”

As associate dean, Flick is crafting the Category One proposal that will shift the College of Education’s structure toward something mirroring the College of Business and College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, neither of which have formal departments. Though the College of Education will focus primarily on STEM and cultural and linguistic diversity, it will continue to offer its innovative double degree program and provide training to college administrators.

“The double degree has been a real success story, and so has our community college leadership program,” Stern said. “They will enable this college as it reorganizes to have greater impact in these areas.”

The Department of Science and Math Education originally moved out of the School of Education umbrella after the passage of Measure 5 in 1991, which dramatically altered higher education funding. The College of Science was able to absorb and support the department in order to continue its survival, and under the leadership of Dean Sherm Bloomer, it continued to thrive.

But now, as the entire university reorganizes into divisional structures, and new opportunities arise for cross-departmental and cross-college collaboration, Bloomer and Stern are seizing the opportunity to place the department back under the umbrella of the College of Education, while keeping its College of Science ties.

Faculty in Flick’s department will eventually be administrated by the College of Education, although they will remain members of the College of Science. In the future, faculty may even move into the newly remodeled Education Hall, but for now, the shift is more theoretical than physical.

“This is an investment by the College of Science in education, and Dean Sherm Bloomer has voiced his interest in creating a robust STEM research program that will attract external funding,” Flick said.

Bloomer said this move emerged from “trying to think about what would be a sensible focus for our effort in education at OSU.”

“It’s clear that a focus on science and technology and mathematics and engineering is a pretty sensible thing to do,” Bloomer said. “We can do that in the context of some of the other things the College of Education has done in terms of their diversity work and training people for positions in public education, those can all be elements of programming. STEM is the unifying focus.”

Flick said OSU officials hope the Department of Science and Math Education’s affiliation with the College of Education will bring greater visibility to its efforts.

“We have always existed in a very comfortable and collaborative way in Science, but nobody knows where we are,” Flick said. “We will be on a much bigger platform (after the reorganization). I think it’s also going to be a big plus for the College of Science to have this investment in education and therefore also be recognized. It won’t be just be the College of Education, it will be the College of Education and the College of Science when it comes to (grants and programs).

“Frankly I think that will position OSU uniquely in the country in that respect,” Flick added. “This is a very high profile kind of connection.”

Bloomer said faculty input has been crucial to the process of shifting the Department of Math and Science Education back under the wings of the College of Education. “We’re doing this as a collaborative effort, as a faculty-led process,” he said. “We’re trying to have the faculty design what this is going to look like.

Flick said he and his colleagues believe OSU will be poised to increase the number of STEM teachers it produces, which is “a huge need in Oregon and the country, for that matter.”

“Recruitment is something we need to learn how to do better – both students interested in teaching and those interested in pursuing doctorates in these scholarship areas,” Flick said. “It’s hard to do if you’re small and hopefully with a bigger profile and more people we’ll get much better at that.”

A stronger STEM focus provides multiple benefits, including increasing the number of students who become math and science educators themselves, and increasing the overall ability of students in science and technology.

“If you look at workforce development assessments, what you see is that you need STEM professionals trained at a level and a depth that the U.S. is not producing,” Bloomer said. “There aren’t enough people and they haven’t been deeply enough trained.”

Bloomer said OSU is positioned to make a big difference in solving that problem.

“For us it makes sense,” he said, “because we as a university are by far the largest science and engineering institution in Oregon.”

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