Here’s the thing you have to keep in mind when you’re dealing with science: it’s not about the answers.
Yes, answers are a by-product of the process. But science is all about asking the questions. That’s how you get results, after all, by asking questions and gathering data.
So when Wipro, a global internet technology company with 13,000 employees in the United States, wanted to find a way to make an impact on STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – education in this country, the question they asked was, “How can we do this most effectively?”
Wipro got its answer from Arthur Eisenkraft of the University of Massachusetts-Boston. A professor of physics and distinguished professor of science education, Eisenkraft is also the director of the school’s Center of Science and Math in Context, or COSMIC.
Wipro’s work in education is driven by the belief that education is a key enabler of social change and a better society. Good education according to them, is that which enables the growth and development of the child in multiple dimensions, so that he or she is able to fulfill and expand her potential, and also to become an active, contributing and concerned citizen of the world.
Being an IT company, they wanted to do something in science and recognized they don’t have the expertise to do that...So they turned to the University of Massachusetts-Boston and said, ‘What ideas do you have for improving science we might be able to get behind?’ We proposed a number of ideas and the one we focused and collaborated on made sure to meet the needs of STEM education as well as Wipro’s interest in a fellowship program.Arthur Eisenkraft, University of Massachusetts-Boston
What came out of it was the Wipro Science Education Program, which today serves five school districts in each of three states: Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. Each district sends four teachers – a mix of high school, middle school, and elementary teachers – who will not only put in 125 hours of work over the next two years learning how best to teach STEM subjects to their students, but will also learn how to share those skills with colleagues back in their districts.
The fact that teachers from a mix of grade levels take part in the program is important, Eisenkraft noted, because they’re often not aware of just how different the teaching of science is outside of their own students’ grade level, and just how much their work impacts each other.
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“The high school teachers are always overwhelmed by what’s going on in first and second grade, and had no idea that kids were never held accountable for that knowledge,” Eisenkraft said. “And the elementary teachers look at the high school teachers and say, ‘I see how our work feeds into your work, as well.’”
During the two-year program, each Wipro fellow comes up with their own plan to support professional development in their district and support district initiatives in science education. Each year culminates in a two-day conference where all 60 fellows from all three states meet to discuss STEM education, build a bigger network, and find more ways to collaborate and extend what they’ve learned.
The three participating universities – UMass-Boston, Montclair State University in New Jersey, and Mercy College in New York – also host the science education coordinators from their state’s districts for regular meetings to cover challenges and opportunities they all share. Those 15 state coordinators also collaborate several times a year.
For Eisenkraft, this kind of investment in education is a “no-brainer” for companies like Wipro, since they could easily spend as much or more money putting their logo on the side of an Indy 500 car. He understands that, in partnerships like this, it is incumbent upon institutions like UMass-Boston to make sure they deliver the best bang for the supporting corporation’s buck.
“Academia has to be an area with good ideas and measured successes so companies can feel their money is being spent wisely,” he said.
But at the same time, if a company goes into education investment with the mindset that it’s somehow like that logo-splashed race car, they won’t see the most return out of their own efforts, too. Which is why from the start of the fellowship program, Wipro has shared the idea with other companies and encouraged them to adopt similar programs wherever they have a presence in the United States.
Eisenkraft says Wipro deserves lot of credit for having that approach. The STEM fellowships are “a program that can change science education,” he said, and the comparative investment is small considering the return will influence multiple school districts that serve the areas around their headquarters and other campuses.
“To me, as an academic, someone who’s life has been trying to improve the science education of students, it’s a no-brainer,” he said. “Support science education, the future of these kids. So when I see an organization and industry making the right choice, I feel great about America.”