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Q&A: STEM Center director at McDaniel highlights college’s newest academic resource

McDaniel College named Ben Smith as the director of the college’s new STEM Center this month.

Smith is a lecturer at the college who teaches mathematical foundations and quantitative peer tutoring. The Times caught up with Smith to learn about his responsibilities as director and what the STEM Center has to offer.

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Q: How will a STEM Center benefit McDaniel College?

A: The STEM Center is the newest academic resource at McDaniel College and the goal of the center is to provide a central hub for STEM on campus. Part of this is supporting all McDaniel students who are taking STEM courses succeed academically. The center is not just for those majoring or minoring in a STEM discipline and, in many cases, students who are not STEM majors or minors might find the most benefit from utilizing the STEM Center. By having a centralized set of resources, students on campus will be more broadly connected to the sciences and will help to develop a STEM community that bridges across different disciplines.

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Q: What are your responsibilities?

A: As director of the STEM Center, my goal is to support the recruitment retention, and success of McDaniel students studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). In practice, this means coordinating and directing academic support opportunities (tutoring, workshops, study groups, review sessions, etc.) for students, as well as working closely with faculty, staff and administrators to stay connected to what is happening in and out of classrooms. This way, the STEM Center can offer relevant programming and networking opportunities that [is in sync] with the flow of each semester and academic year. In addition to aiding my faculty colleagues in keeping up to date with best practices in STEM pedagogy, I am also an instructor and teach courses on math and applied learning theory.

Q: What do you enjoy about STEM education?

A: Science, technology, engineering and mathematics underlie almost every aspect of modern society. In the increasingly technological 21st century, it’s crucial that everyone has a working understanding of what the scientific method is, and what science can and can’t say. To truly engage as globally conscious citizens, scientific and quantitative literacy is an absolute must. Beyond science itself, the applications of critical thinking, logic and the communication of complex ideas are all transferable skills that students gain through studying STEM that are fundamental to the liberal arts experience.

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Q: What do you hope students and faculty gain from the STEM Center?

A: My hope is for the STEM Center to be both an opportunity and physical space where the entire campus community can come together to engage in STEM education and thinking. Recognizing that this resource is not just for students majoring in the sciences, but for everyone, to engage in questions on topics that are critical not just for today, but for the future as well. Science and curiosity go hand in hand, and STEM truly can and should be for everyone.

Q: What are your favorite features of the STEM Center?

A: One of the goals in the creation of the STEM Center at McDaniel was making sure that the physical space is truly state of the art to ensure our community has access to the best possible resources. One of my favorite features of the STEM Center is our small group instruction space which enables our staff to work hybrid with students online and offline. Utilizing an ultrashort throw interactive projector casting onto a whiteboard screen, coupled with a high-resolution camera and closed audio system, STEM Center staff cannot only project the work being done in the physical studio, but students online can also interact with those in person from their computers or smart devices anywhere with an internet connection. This combination of low- and high-tech resources is just one example of how the STEM Center supports learning for all students on campus.

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