Decade in review: Edinboro moves toward being STEM education hub

Category:  News
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019 at 9:16 AM
Decade in review: Edinboro moves toward being STEM education hub by Shayma Musa

In 1857, Edinboro University was founded as the Edinboro Academy, a school with the sole purpose of training Pennsylvania teachers. Over 100 years and two name changes later, the university was known as Edinboro State College, and the academic programing was advanced to include liberal arts studies and other degree programs outside of education. 

Today, the university has a much-diversified menu of program options, while overall academics have been adjusted to reflect in-demand career opportunities. However, in our review of the last 10 years, The Spectator identified a focus on improving and refining STEM programs and facilities. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top five fastest growing occupations nationally are: solar photovoltaic installers, wind turbine service technicians, home health aides, personal care aides, and occupational therapy assistants. Three out of five can only be accessed with a STEM education. 

This is also reflected in Erie County job trends, according to Pennsylvania Career Zone. The top four in-demand career areas are: agriculture, food and natural resources, health science, and scientific research/engineering. 

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. Since the National Science Foundation conceived the acronym in their report, which found that U.S students lagged behind the rest of the world in these areas, those four letters have become the buzzword that educational institutions across America can’t get enough of. 

Including Edinboro. 

This focus has resulted in a combined $44.7 million being spent on the construction of the Jeremy D. Brown Health and Human Services Building, along with renovations to Cooper Hall and Ross Hall. These three buildings house primarily STEM programs. 

Cooper Hall, named after former Edinboro Principal Joseph Cooper, stood on campus since 1964, and beside a minor renovation in 1990, the building had not been updated. At the start of the decade, former university president Jeremy Brown would change that by striking the blow that would begin a $29 million renovation, creating a facility that, as Brown stated in an interview with The Spectator on the day of the announcement, is “the finest science building in northwestern Pennsylvania.” 

The renovation would not only update facilities, but add another 30,000 square feet to the already 90,000 square-foot building. That renovation began January 2010 and was completed in January 2012. 

“That (renovation of Cooper Hall) has been a remarkable enhancement of our science facilities and our laboratories. Everything over there has been vastly improved to be more current and to provide really good equipment and facilities conducive to student learning,” said Dr. Denise Ohler, Dean of the College of Science and Health Professions at Edinboro.

One year later, in 2011, the university sunk $7 million into the construction of the health and human services facility (now renamed the Jeremy D. Brown Health and Human Services Building). This is home to the nursing and communication science disorders departments.

Three years later, Ross Hall, which houses the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, was updated. Fifty years after its initial construction, the 34,000 square-foot building received an additional 10,000 square feet and a renovation. It’s also now connected to the campus “skybridge.”

As Edinboro has poured money into updating and constructing these buildings, STEM has risen in popularity. 

 “I think that students recognize the job opportunities, and they know that health careers and computer science stand out as great opportunities for students to advance themselves,” said Ohler. “I think that a lot of students, more so than being vocationally oriented, are oriented to give back to their communities and toward altruism, and they want to be able to provide valuable services to people. STEM careers are certainly a way to do it. College is [also] very expensive; a lot of students go into a lot of debt to obtain a college degree and beyond, and they want to be sure that they get a lucrative career in order to pay back that debt.”  

Edinboro University enrollment reflects the increase in popularity: in 2010, students enrolled in STEM majors made up 7% of the total population; in 2019, they make up 13.9% of the total students. 

Statewide percentages reflect this same increase. In 2010, the percentage of Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education students enrolled in STEM majors was 10.9 of the total population; in 2019, that number is at 15.1%.

“I became Assistant Dean of the College of Science and Health Professions around the same time (as the renovations to Cooper), and then the Dean position became open and I became dean of the college in 2017,” said Ohler. “Since I’ve been in this role, one of the things that I’ve tried to do is support the interest of the faculty in developing new programs and in updating the curriculum, so that students are as well prepared as possible. Part of the success of this program is in changes to the curriculum and general awareness of helping people to realize that Edinboro is a place for STEM education.”

Ohler also talked the versatility inherent in STEM, saying it’s “easily combined with majors and minors within the liberal arts.”

Around the same time the university put money into the STEM buildings, a decision was made to further emphasize the distinction between the STEM majors and the rest of the disciplines offered. “We had one big college of arts and sciences. It was everything except for education. We decided to split that group; we created two colleges: the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and the College of Science and Health Professions,” said Ohler. 

As Edinboro University enters into a new decade, there’s more changes to the STEM offerings: five new majors and two new concentrations have been added to science and health professions. Additionally, plans are underway for the development of a yeast library within the chemistry department in Cooper. Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture approved a $75,000 grant for the department to put toward the construction of the library. It will be an addition to the much publicized fermentation science program. According to chemistry professor Nathan Armatas, the EU fermentation program is currently listed as the only bachelor’s degree in fermentation science offered in Pennsylvania. 

“With that renovation (of Cooper) and also the development of new programs in the science and health professions, we have tried to draw some emphasis to Edinboro, [and] some recognition that we offer all these programs. Students can get a strong foundation and educational base in the STEM areas, just as they have traditionally gained in education and the arts,” Ohler concluded. 

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