Nov. 1, 2019

Reimagining STEM

Werklund School of Education researchers are rethinking science, technology, engineering and mathematics conventions by asking hard questions

When you picture a successful person in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, who do you imagine? Who do you think belongs in the discipline?

Dr. Miwa Takeuchi, PhD, is one of several Werklund School of Education researchers who are reimagining STEM by scrutinizing the assumptions that underpin access and equity in these fields of expertise — and these are just some of the difficult questions they are asking. 

“By creating a space within STEM education, where hidden culturally and historically rich resources can be affirmed and accepted socially, we can all benefit from the richness of diversity,” she says. 

At the Werklund School, for example, Dr. Pratim Sengupta, PhD, and Dr. Marie-Claire Shanahan, PhD, are designing spaces that challenge typical notions about computation and science by making interactive coding opportunities available to the general public. Their goal is to create an enhanced sense of publicness, ownership and participation. 

“We are imagining a different kind of STEM education where the silenced histories and voices of learners are brought to the centre,” explains Sengupta. “We are asking: how can oppressed identities shape what new forms of computing can look like? How can art make STEM public?” 

Redefining what is judged to fall within STEM’s domain is also necessary, says Dr. Jennifer Adams, PhD. “Careers in journalism or teaching are not typically considered STEM careers, simply because they do not involve doing STEM research,” she says. In addition to this shift, the questions Adams believes carry most weight focus on ways for emphasizing collective effort over individual competitiveness and addressing biases towards underrepresented groups in STEM, whether these groups be marginalized due to language, cultural background, social class, gender or sexual orientation. 

While posing these enquiries, the researchers are also offering answers for why this reimagining is imperative. “Diversity potentially leads to different questions asked, different approaches to experiments and, ultimately, different answers to address the same issue,” says Adams. 

Adds Sengupta: “As our societies become more multicultural, our economies need to become progressively more diversified. The economy runs on STEM professionals.”