May 22, 2020

The STEM Education Center at WPI has been and continues to be a source of support for those on the frontlines of education during the COVID-19 pandemic: PK-12 teachers who had to quickly switch gears from educating their students in the classroom to doing so remotely via online learning (synchronous and asynchronous), printed materials, and phone calls.

“We exist to support teachers in teaching STEM, so of course we are living it with them,” says executive director Kathy Chen. There are three main components to the STEM Education Center: professional development for PK-12 educators, a Teacher Preparation Program for WPI undergraduate students, and community engagement. “I think we’ve done an incredible job. I’m really proud of the staff at the center,” she says.

During the pandemic, the STEM Education Center launched many new initiatives. These programs included developing a teacher resources webpage, which was also shared with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education; hosting weekly Zoom meetings with PK-12 educators (engaging at least 33 educators from at least 16 districts) where online tools and STEM activity resources are shared; and adjusting summer professional development so that it can be offered online. “Our center is really good at addressing actual needs and being very creative,” says Chen.

Meanwhile, WPI students who are part of WPI’s Teacher Preparation Program also had to adjust like their teaching counterparts and pivot to do their student teaching online, an asset they can offer future employers, Chen says. The WPI students were especially valuable at this time because of their knowledge of technology, and they helped teachers learn new tools as part of the new online format.

Looking forward, some of the STEM center’s new initiatives—including online professional development—will continue. “For us," she says, "STEM is about problem solving. The pandemic is just a bigger, more complicated problem. But we rise to the occasion. This is what WPI is really good at.”

-By Lauren Borsa Curran