LUBBOCK, Texas (press release) – The following is a press release from Texas Tech University:
Michelle Pantoya of Texas Tech University, Professor and JW Wright Regents Chair in Mechanical Engineering at the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering, expands the Growing STEMs Consortium to meet the needs of the U.S. Department of the Navy with a three-year, $ 750,000 grant funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR).
She recently launched a similar STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning program called “Growing STEMs Consortium: Training the Next Generation of Engineers for the DOE / National Nuclear Security Administration Workforce” with funding from the US Department of Energy (DOE). .
Both programs leverage energetic materials science and complement each other by training students using active, hands-on learning approaches with mission-focused research from the Department of the Navy (DON) and DOE.
Pantoya, who specializes in energetic materials and heads the Combustion Lab, said ONR’s solicitation resonated with her as it focused more on how students succeed in STEM careers rather than ” next big technological discovery “.
“I started to think about the educational steps we are taking to train students to be good workers in the future,” she said. “This is why this special request from the ONR really excited me. It gave me the opportunity not only to talk about the technical aspects of scientific work, but to talk about the model we are implementing to prepare people for success in their future STEM careers. There is actually a science behind the educational practices that are not talked about much in the hard sciences. It’s more like “Oh look, we just invented the next great new material for this app” than “How do we train the students to do that? But process is key in an academic setting and is central to this program.
“There is a distinction here that has been, for me, underestimated. When I saw this solicitation, I realized that the people who wrote it valued this educational process. It allowed me to really explore it in depth, then talk about it in the proposal and develop a comprehensive plan around the education process. These plans are not unknown to me; this is what I have been doing for several years with more than a hundred students. So, it was really about capitalizing on what I had already understood and putting it in place in a coherent and systematic way.
Any student wishing to apply to be part of the consortium must have an interest in work done in the Navy and be eligible to work in a military lab in the future, Pantoya said. The Texas Tech faculty team will mentor students and develop their high-level analytical skills by working with them on laboratory research projects.
Pantoya believes that this consortium is vital for higher education and the STEM fields in general.
“First and foremost, there is a lack of well-trained and prepared STEM employees who can work for the Navy and the federal government,” she said. “There are people who have been retiring for over 40 years who are beyond experts in the field of energetic materials, and they are leaving. Without this knowledge base, our country will be at a great disadvantage in how we develop our country’s security technologies in the future. “
So the need to train STEM people is paramount, Pantoya said. There is also a lack of skills focused on energetic materials and engineering in general. The consortium fills this human capital gap that will help the Navy and the United States move forward in the future.
“Another gap is the need to create a diverse workplace, as different cultures in the United States naturally present different perspectives on how to solve problems, and engineers, by their very nature, are problem solvers. ”Pantoya said. “Having a diverse workforce allows us to look at issues from a variety of perspectives and produce creative engineering design strategies. This program meets both of these needs.
(Texas Tech University press release)