STEM Dean Finalists Address Students, Faculty

By Graig Graziosi

Candidates for dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at Youngstown State University participated in open forum discussions last week.

Montserrat Fuentes of North Carolina State University, Wim Steelant of St. Thomas University and Gregg Sturrus, the interim dean of YSU’s college of STEM, presented plans for the future of the college and fielded questions from students and faculty.

Fuentes is the department head of the nation’s largest statistics department, located at North Carolina State University. Steelant is the vice president of Research and dean of Science at St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida.

While on campus, the candidates discussed diversity in STEM fields, academic governance and study abroad opportunities for students and retention, as well as their goals and strategies for management of the STEM college.

Fuentes emphasized her desire to grow the number of women and minorities represented in STEM leadership. Based on initiatives she led prior, Fuentes proposed establishing a post-doctorate fellowship program through the dean’s office to promote diversity in STEM careers.

Retention was the focus of Steelant’s discussion of diversity. He blamed a lack of preparation at the high school level combined with administrative pressure on faculty to pass students as major contributors to retention issues. Steelant argued that hands on, personal intervention with students is a powerful tool in boosting retention.

“I don’t have an answer to how to fix retention … You’ve got to be hands on,” Steelant said. “I pull students out from my classes early and try to encourage them to work with faculty, and also get them into internships with colleagues of mine in companies and other universities … you’ve got to be willing to work with those kids.”

Fuentes also proposed face time with students as a viable answer to retention concerns.

“It’s essential to be involved with students, faculty, staff, everyone. I’d like to have a breakfast with students each month,” Fuentes said. “It will be different based on the culture but … the students need to have a voice.”

Sturrus expressed a desire to use already diverse groups operating within the STEM program to further recruit and involve minority populations in the STEM college.

“We have a couple of [minority work] groups active on campus [that can be used for] recruiting a more diverse base of students in engineering specifically … we also at YSU have women in science and engineering — WISE — and they’re pretty active too,” Sturrus said. “It’s a good sized group, and we want to try to extend the same kind of activities to all of STEM.”

Both Fuentes and Steelant emphasized the need for YSU to develop partnerships with nearby cities, universities and corporations for research and internship purposes.

“Whenever someone says, ‘how much involvement should we have in other cities?’ My answer is always, ‘more,’” Steelant said.

The Board of Trustees discussed the forthcoming STEM dean during Tuesday’s meeting. An answer may be ready for the public following their Dec. 16 meeting.