Greg Budzban

Greg Budzban

February 27, 2014

Campus, region to benefit from new STEM Education Research Center

Dramatic changes in math education are on the horizon in Illinois and across the country. As an educator and a parent, I understand many of the challenges this can create for teachers, students, and parents. Fortunately, faculty experts from SIU stand ready to assist.

If you are not yet familiar with the “Common Core,” you will be soon. That is the name of a new set of national standards in math and English designed to better prepare K-12 students for college and career success. I agree with Greg Budzban, professor and chair of our mathematics department, who calls this “the most fundamental transformation in both the content and the way we teach mathematics that has ever happened.”

Greg, who joined the math faculty in 1991, is among the leaders of a new initiative at SIU designed to help smooth the transition to the new math teaching and learning standards. But as its name suggests, the focus of the STEM Education Research Center is far broader – and vitally important as we prepare students to compete for jobs.

While significant growth in jobs in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math – is expected in the next five years, only 16 percent of American high school students are proficient in math and are interested in a STEM career. Nationally, there is a call for an increase in college graduates from STEM programs to address the critical need in professions that are increasingly at the heart of the global economy.

As Greg noted, the new math standards will encourage more critical thinking by students – including in elementary schools -- and will focus on core ideas that provide the foundation for what mathematics is all about.

“It’s such a transformation in the way we teach that I think the teachers in the state will need all the support we can give them,” Greg said. “For a research institution such as SIU, which has a historically deep commitment to education, this is an opportunity to reach out to the schools and communities in our region and support their teaching efforts.”

Six community college partners also will play an important role in this educational process.

“We’re going to pilot a hybrid workshop structure, where the lead facilitator will be at SIU and the community colleges will host satellite workshops simultaneously,” Greg explained. “That will make it much more convenient for the K-12 teachers, who will only have to drive to their community college.”

Outreach to the region’s elementary and high schools is a longstanding commitment of ours. As just one example, Greg and his math colleagues are hard at work preparing for next Tuesday’s 57th annual Math Field Day. More than 1,000 math whizzes from about 50 high schools in Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky will be on campus to compete in a series of tests designed and scored by our math faculty and students.

While working with numbers comes easily for me, I know from my own experiences in the classroom that math can be very challenging for some students. We take our responsibility to provide support to the region’s schools very seriously, and I am excited about the efforts of Greg and many other faculty colleagues to grow Southern Illinois’ potential in the critical STEM fields.