Get to know Rachel, an MAS intern and Facilitator for SISE

Hello! My name is Rachel and I’ve just begun an internship here at the Massachusetts Academy of Sciences.  First, here’s a little about who I am and how I got connected with this organization.

I am currently a rising sophomore at UMass Amherst majoring in Biology with a concentration in botany and a minor in Environmental Biology.  I was accepted into The Biology Talent Enhancement Program (or BioTAP) of UMass, which allowed me the great privilege of taking the program’s second semester honors introductory biology course with Dr. Margaret Riley.  At the beginning of one of her first lectures, she brought in her African Grey parrot, Doc, and I fell in love.  A fellow classmate of mine and I worked with Doc three days a week throughout the semester in an ongoing attempt of training him to speak on command.  As an intern, I will be tasked with continuing his training as a side project over the summer and continuing to train him with two other students in the fall.

My main job as a summer intern is to facilitate the beginning of a yearlong initiative called Students Improving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Education, or SISE for short.  The idea for this initiative came from a meeting where individuals were discussing ideas for improving STEM education, as Governor Patrick tasked Massachusetts higher education administrators with a 50% increase in students receiving a degree with a STEM major in the next four years. Nationwide, programs are forming and working furiously to meet the demands of this coming era by identifying the areas of STEM education that need changing.

As far as we know, however, nobody has asked the main focus of all the hype: the students!  The goal of SISE is to engage undergraduate and graduate students with STEM majors in constructive conversation regarding how to reform STEM education, because what it really all comes down to is what the STUDENTS experienced, why they chose their major, why they stuck with it or dropped it, and what THEY would change to make their experience as a STEM major a better process overall for future participants.  In the words of one of our Catalyst Team members, Brett Rowley, “we need more stories of people who had a life-changing experience that made them want to do STEM.”

As the facilitator, my job is not to create this program, but to facilitate its creation. The MAS brought together a fantastic group of undergraduate (and one graduate) students from several colleges and universities in Massachusetts, and with their ideas and contributions, I will collaborate with them to form a self-sustaining social media campaign for the fall by organizing e-mails, keeping the team well-informed and involved, and maintaining the social media outlets.  By the fall we will have created a self-sustaining program that allows students to connect with other students, reflect on past experiences, and create a publication of initial feelings and recommendations for STEM education and reform.


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