Helping STEM Students Thrive

Concurrent Session 2

Brief Abstract

We continue to hear stories of underrepresented and first generation students lagging behind or switching out of STEM majors. Hear how we are creating more stories of thriving through a new online speaker series, where faculty, staff, and students can share ideas, learn from one another, and build a community. 


Dr. Prusko has over 15 years of experience developing innovative pedagogical approaches using multiple modalities. She holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering (B.S.), and Business Management (MBA) from Union College, and Curriculum and Instruction (Ph.D.) from University at Albany. As Associate Director of Learning Design within the Harvard Graduate School of Education Dr. Prusko oversees the design, development and project management of online and technology enhanced courses. Prior to her current role, Dr. Prusko worked as an Instructional Designer at Cornell University in the Center for Teaching Innovation, and as a faculty member at State University of New York, Empire State College, Center for Distance Learning and International Programs. Her current research focuses on course and system level structures that support inclusive, transformational learning experiences for all students, especially first generation and underrepresented student populations in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. She is passionate about increasing global access to STEM education for all women, and believes by increasing access to education for women we can enable more communities across the globe to thrive and flourish.

Extended Abstract


While continuing to hear stories of underrepresented and first generation students lagging behind or switching out of STEM majors, three women; one at Cornell, and two at UB, saw an opportunity to shift the story. They created a new online speaker series, The Next 10 Years: Helping STEM Students Thrive; where faculty, staff, and students could share ideas, learn from one another, and build a community. The first in the series aired on October 11, 2017 featuring Dr. Lynne Molter, Dr. Julia Thom-Levy, Dr. Elisabeth Etopio and Dr. Richard Lamb discussing trends and innovation in higher ed.  

The women quickly learned that there was a global desire to better understand how we can help STEM students thrive when 102 people from 53 institutions, three countries, and 23 states registered for this event. Institutions spanned 4 year colleges, community colleges, k-12, and the private sector. They included: Paris Ile-de-France Digital University, Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, Greenfield Community College, Harvard, Penn State, University of Wisconsin Madison, Union College, Schriener University, Cornell, University at Buffalo, and the Society of nuclear medicine, to name a few.


Many studies have examined  why underrepresented (URM) and first generation students don’t persist in traditional college settings, and we continue to develop interventions, yet we don’t see a shift in persistence. Cultural stereotypes associated with STEM, that it has a a chilly work environment, researchers work in isolation, and are  nerdy, geeky, and (mostly white) men, continue to persist and dissuade women from following a STEM path. Studies, including one by the lead author here,  support the effect of early outreach efforts, role models, and a support system in increasing women’s interest and goal attainment in STEM fields. We have a slightly different question. We've been wondering if the development of a community of practice across universities and the globe can be one way for women to development meaningful goals as they relate to STEM. Can an online speaker series be designed in a way that provides avenues for women to explore careers, find a support system if they don't have one, and enable them to believe they can be successful?

OLC Pillars

Learning Effectiveness: This series supports learning effectiveness through the discussion of topics such as: pedagogical innovation and course design for undergraduate STEM courses that are blended and online. About 50% of our participants are faculty thus also providing a form of faculty development and community of practice. 
Scale: The use of Shindig in abled us to scale this series beyond the population of Cornell and UB. It also enabled us to scale the community of practice and sharing of ideas beyond our own campuses without any increased cost to our campus or those participating. For this pillar it demonstrated cost-effectiveness, global-ness (participants were from across the globe) and technology infrastructure.
Access: The use of access increased access for participants across universities and the globe. Participants included students, faculty and staff. In addition Shindig offers live captioning making participation in the live session more accessible. 
Faculty Satisfaction: One of our goals is to increase faculty satisfaction by providing professional development and the opportunity to share, learn from peers and build a community of practice.
Student Satisfaction: Our primary goal for this series was to help faculty and staff better understand how to create an environment where STEM students can thrive thus increasing their overall satisfaction. 


We will break the audience up into groups depending on their interest and take them through the first three steps of the design thinking process (empathize, define and ideate) as a way to apply human centered design to the societal problems presented. 


To begin a discussion that will live beyond our session around ways the digitization of education can enable us to find solutions to current problems related to helping STEM students thrive. Continue the process off line and work together to develop and test a prototype.

At the end of this sessions participants will be able to:

Apply the concept of a speaker series in the design of online a community of practice
Discuss ways in which virtual meeting tools may cultivate a community of practice
Evaluate the impact of building a community of practice