By Alaina Leary Lavoie ’15
When Jennifer Hanselman, Ph.D., became dean of the College of Mathematics and Sciences in 2018,
she knew she wanted a major part of her role to be advocating for Westfield State in the realm of statewide science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.
Dr. Hanselman’s commitment to science goes way back. Previously a professor, then the Biology education coordinator and department chair, Dr. Hanselman says her fourth-grade teacher was the inspiration behind her pursuit of a STEM career. “If we can facilitate conversations from kindergarten to high school, then we all play that role in exciting and engaging students,” she says.
In getting the Pioneer Valley STEM Network up and running again, Dr. Hanselman is helping to create an arena for those important talks.
The region’s STEM Network was originally established in 2004 to facilitate collaboration among local schools, higher education institutions, and business partners to encourage more students to consider careers in STEM. The network was inactive for several years until Dr. Hanselman applied to position Westfield State as the lead institution last year; she now serves as regional manager of the recently-revived, state-funded network.
Dr. Hanselman explains that the network encourages people to pursue STEM and also helps all students understand the value of STEM literacy in their lives. “STEM is a critical piece of a liberal arts education,” she says.
Westfield State students have been actively involved in the network, according to Dr. Hanselman. They take part in Mass STEM Week, an annual event with numerous activities across the Pioneer Valley, primarily engaging K-12 students in the classroom and in the community at locations like the Boys & Girls Club.
The week’s activities allow younger students to explore new concepts and ideas and take part in projects, such as a zero-waste challenge in their schools. Partners like the Springfield Museums get involved with portable planetariums, and Westfield State hosts fourth-graders on campus for STEM-related activities. “When those students go through these activities, they see STEM in a different way,” Dr. Hanselman says. “It exposes students to a college campus and demystifies STEM.”
Gabrielle Trudeau ’21, a double major in computer science and mathematics, was the student speaker at the opening ceremony for STEM Week 2019 last fall, which carried the theme “See Yourself in STEM.”
“When I was looking at colleges and potential majors, I didn’t even know what STEM was,” she explains. “Today, STEM is a male-dominant field; in a class of 30 people, I’m usually one of two girls. I hope events such as this will help young girls see that they are more than capable of succeeding.”
Dr. Hanselman is pleased that taking a lead in the STEM Network allows Westfield State to build and enhance its connections across the Pioneer Valley. “The support we can give as an institution is a wonderful role for Westfield State,” she says. “Access to STEM is so important. We want to reinforce that students can see themselves in STEM.”