When Remy Dou began teaching high school biology, he reveled in seeing his best and brightest students understand challenging concepts.
Thanks to a mentor, he soon realized that approach was all wrong.
“For teachers, we see the most engaged students and we take their success as a sign of our great teaching skills because you see the results right away and it feels good,” Dou, 33, said. “When you target the least-engaged students, it forces you to bring out out whatever skills you have to get that student motivated and learning something.”
What worked for Dou, a Curriculum and Instruction doctoral student in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education, was developing closer relationships with students.
Talking to his students and attending their sporting events, for example, got them to take more interest in class and ultimately to get better grades, Dou said.
It’s that combination of the social and the scientific that Dou has made the focus of his doctoral research because as the global economy has shifted more toward the technical and scientific, he wants more students to find and keep those lucrative jobs.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the demand for jobs in the Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields is strong.
The number of jobs in STEM fields are projected to grow by 17 percent or roughly twice as fast as non-STEM occupations through 2018. STEM workers also command salaries that are 26 percent higher than non-STEM jobs, according to the Department of Commerce.
FIU, where more than 11,500 students major in STEM fields, has made significant commitments to improving STEM education. President Mark B. Rosenberg was recently named chairman of a National Academy of Sciences committee to develop benchmarks and tracking tools for STEM education.
The College of Arts, Sciences & Education is also home to FIUTeach, a secondary STEM teacher preparation initiative, and the STEM Transformation Institute, which has reshaped the way science courses are taught throughout the university.
Six science courses are taught in two state-of-the-art active learning classrooms, where professors eschew the traditional lecture model and students collaborate with one another to tackle scientific challenges hands-on.
It’s in these classrooms where Dou conducts his research.
“Seeing value in relationships led me to focus on looking at relationships in the classroom in my research and the impact of relationships between students and instructors,” Dou said. “It’s a social justice issue, for me. I want students of all backgrounds to have the ability to pursue STEM careers where employment is more secure and they can earn higher level salaries.”
According to the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), today’s STEM work force is not as diverse as it could be.
Women and minorities make up a fraction of today’s STEM work force. Women, for example, make up 48 percent of the work force, yet they account for only 23 percent of all STEM employees. The numbers are worse for blacks and Hispanics, who represent a mere 12 percent of STEM workers, according to NMSI.
The question Dou and other researchers are asking is how can educators help students maintain and develop an interest in science fields that will help them continue on in science careers.
“What we’ve seen in our modeling instruction courses is students interacting with one another,” Dou said. “Success depends on how students interact with one another – it doesn’t always mean that you’re the person who is speaking. You also have to listen, participate and be engaged. These classes are designed so that those things happen naturally.”
Dou, who won a recent student poster competition held by the American Association for the Advancement on Science, is continuing to work on identifying the intangibles that will ultimately help students succeed in STEM.