STEM Index Identifies Progress in Advancing the STEM Agenda

STEM Index Identifies Progress in Advancing the STEM Agenda

In 2011, 2012 and 2013, I chaired the ASQ Advancing the STEM Agenda Conferences.  This was an effort to bring more awareness to the need for more STEM professionals and to network among educators and employers to improve our STEM education processes and collaboration with industry.

Since then, US News and Raytheon have teamed up to develop a composite STEM Index that includes education indices, AP test results, and employment statistics such as the number of STEM jobs in each of the STEM categories.  The components of the STEM Index are displayed so one can see which areas are growing the most and which areas are not advancing. 

The link for the 2015 STEM Index is:

Some significant facts:

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Introverts and Flipped Classrooms

The Atlantic publishes an article "When Schools Overlook Introverts"  .  

It is an interesting article and this particular topic needs more attention among college educators.  

"This growing emphasis in classrooms on group projects and  other interactive arrangements can be challenging for introverted students who tend to perform better when they're working independently and in more subdued environments."

LIkewise, if all the college classes are flipped classrooms, it can be overwhelming for an introvert.  The same is true for the current trend towards open "agile" work environments, especially in the computing fields. 

Cindy Veenstra, PhD





The College Scorecard: How it was created

This U.S. Department of Education blog describes how the College Scorecard was generated, the data that was included and the benefits of the Scorecard.

With a focus on being customer and student-focused, the developers of the College Scorecard talked with groups of high school students to ask them what would help them in their college searches.  To be agile, prototypes of examples for smart phones were quickly developed.  The article provides more information on how the Scorecard was developed and its usefulness to students and their families on their college choices and decisions.  

The College Scorecard is at

Cindy Veenstra, PhD


College Scorecard Provides New Information on Financial Aid and Earnings

College Scorecard Provides New Information on Financial Aid and Earnings

Yesterday, the Obama administration released  a  college scorecard database system , that will help future students and their parents make financial decisions about which college to attend.   NPR called it a “torrent of data”.

It will also enable researchers to better understand the impact of the higher education processes on student success during and after college.     Here is a detailed summary of the Scorecard, published by Inside Higher Education.

This article published in the New York Times today shows that there are gaps in earnings across colleges. It is a worthwhile article to read.

I know of two main aspects of the Scorecard.  The first is a very user-friendly website to view one college, or a group of colleges , such as all colleges for a particular state.  For example, one can select only public or private colleges, or 4-year colleges vs. 2-year community colleges.  The Scorecard webpage includes easy viewing of graphics of Average annual cost, 6-year graduation rate, and Median salary of students who received federal financial aid, 10 years after entering college.  In addition, clicking on “View More Details” for each college gives much more detail including net annual cost of college by family income levels, ACT/SAT scores, first-year retention,  average debt after college and percent of students paying down their loans within 3 years of graduation.

As an example, here is a link to the 4 –year public colleges and universities in Michigan, sorted by graduation rates. I hope my Michigan colleagues enjoy seeing this set of graphs.  (This can be displayed for any state. )

The graphs paint a picture of an excellent return in alumni income given the average cost of college in Michigan.  The average cost of college per student for Michigan’s public colleges is less than the national average for all but one college, while all the public colleges show a median income 10 years after  students started  above the national average (for those students who received federal financial aid). 

However, the graduation rates need much improvement   with eight of the public colleges showing a 6-year graduation rate less than 50%.   Note that most of these colleges have strong first year retention percentages, which is a good indication that the graduation rates can be improved with more attention to retention and upperclass student success processes.  

The second aspect of the College Scorecard is that several databases are accessible.  They are available at the College Scorecard Data website

Look for future blogs on this Scorecard after I have had a chance to look at it in more detail. Very Exciting!


Cindy Veenstra, PhD, ASQ Fellow

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Update on SAT Scores

Today, Inside Higher Education reports a summary of SAT scores for 2015.  The averages are flat to down a few points.  The 2015 average for critical reading is 495, for mathematics is 511 and for writing is 484.  

ACT scores are reported as also flat compared to previous years . 

Research has shown that the SAT and ACT scores are strong predictors of preparedness for college-level studies.  This is especially true for college STEM majors. 

The article is at:

If we are to meet the demand for increasing the STEM workforce through higher rates of college STEM graduation, we need to see higher levels of ACT and SAT scores. The systemic problems of K-12 education need to be addressed. More support for K-12 education is needed. 

Cindy Veenstra, PhD, ASQ Fellow


Improving Diversity in Engineering Colleges

Improving Diversity in Engineering Colleges

In a letter published by the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE),  Deans of engineering colleges in the U.S. committed to "to provide increased opportunity to pursue meaningful engineering careers to women and other underrepresented demographic groups" and to ensure that their  institutions "provide educational experiences that are inclusive and prevent marginalization of any groups of people because of visible or invisible differences." 

The commitment to diversity includes four points:

1) Develop a Diversity Plan to improve diversity in their engineering college

2)Commit to supporting at least one K-12 or community  college outreach activity

3) "Commit to developing strong partnerships between research-intensive engineering schools and non-PhD granting engineering schools serving populations underrepresented in engineering. "

4) "Commit to the development and implementation of proactive strategies to increase the representation of women and underrepresented minorities in our faculty."

The ASEE letter of commitment to diversity and engineering colleges making this commitment is available at this link.

This is a strong leadership commitment that should lead to increased graduation of women and minorities in engineering. 

Cindy Veenstra, PhD, ASQ Fellow 

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Women in Engineering: Thoughts on Progress

Women in Engineering: Thoughts on Progress

The May 2015 issue of the ASEE Connections reports that “The percentage of full-time undergraduate female engineering students graduating with a degree in engineering has declined in most disciplines during the past decade“ ("DataBytes").   Of 22 engineering disciplines, only general engineering, civil/environmental engineering and environmental engineering show that the percentage of women graduates increased in the past decade, from 2005 to 2014.  The overall percentage of full-time undergraduate women engineering students graduating in any engineering discipline in 2014 is the same as it was in 2005, recovering from a decrease after 2005. ("Engineering By the Numbers", ASEE, 2013) This post discusses the published statistics and then highlights a new research report by AAUW on strategies for increasing the number of women in engineering .   

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What Can the Quality Gurus Teach Us?

I have been thinking lately about the quality gurus and how their philosophies relate to university student success. 

Walter Shewhart and Phil Crosby defined quality in terms of meeting stated specifications.  Did a product meet engineering specification?  At a university, we might use this approach to ask if a student showed mastery of a subject by achieving an A or B in a course.  Or does a university meet the accreditation requirements? 

Joseph Juran was known for his quality trilogy and focus on  including quality improvement.   From a student perspective, has the student increased his/her knowledge during a semester.  From a faculty perspective, do the learning outcomes assessments show improvement in learning outcomes over multiple semesters?  How is significant improvement in student learning outcomes achieved? With improve learning outcomes, more students should achieve higher grades.

W. Edwards Deming and his 14 points of quality management stressed the importance of the system in supporting the work to be done and the importance of customer satisfaction.   If the student is considered a customer, does the student feel he/she is receiving the course knowledge that will help them in their careers?  Then, the course will be considered of great value, eventually leading to alum support.  Is the entire educational system helping students to achieve their goals?  More is needed than to lecture a student to do better, instead explain to them the process of learning through improved teaching and advising.   Design the teaching processes that support the learning processes; these must be continually improved upon to support students.  Then the student learns more and is empowered by his/her learning. 

Noriaki Kano proposed the Kano model, that by exceeding a customer’s needs and exciting the customer about a product, customer satisfaction increases.  With time, customers’ excitement needs increases, so the product needs to improve. Likewise, at universities, if universities exceed students’ needs by inspiring them in the classroom with real-world examples and relevant projects, students will become more satisfied, learn more,  and most likely will earn higher grades .  But it is also true that the expectations are always increasing; the universities with innovative teaching will have excellent enrollments and graduation rates.  

Student-focused cultures that include these ideas  will have higher retention rates and satisfied alums. 

Cindy Veenstra, PhD, ASQ Fellow

Michigan's College Graduation Rates Need Improving!

The Detroit News recently reported the 6-year graduation rates at Michigan's colleges, in its article " College Graduation Rates Lag in Michigan" .

Eight of the fifteen 4-year public universities had 6-year graduation rates less than 50%.  We can do a lot better.  The top three universities were the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor with a 90% graduation rate, Michigan State University with a 78% and Grand Valley State University with a 70% 6-year graduation rate.  The universities with the lowest graduation rates were Wayne State University with a 32% graduation rate, and the University of Michigan-Flint and Eastern Michigan University were tied with a 38% 6-year graduation rate. 

I repeat, We can do much better. Usually universities with low graduation rates start with a low freshman retention rate, so reviewing the culture for freshman success often yields patterns that can be improved. Having a culture of continuous improvement throughout the university is key to improved graduation rates and should have a high priority. Each university is different and requires different strategies for improving graduation rates.  More focus on continuous improvement and a student-focused culture will yield higher retention rates.   

Some ideas that may be useful are included in my Journal for Quality and Participation article " A Strategy for Improving Freshman College Retention

Cindy Veenstra, PhD



The Joy of Learning Engineering and Education Quality

"We are here to learn, to make a difference and to have fun" - W. Edwards Deming  

In my ASQ Education Brief article, “STEM Demands Innovation” published in February in celebration of Engineers’ Week, I wrote of some of the latest innovative thinking for both exciting students about STEM careers and improving engineering education.  This blog continues that discussion, addressing the joy of learning.   Two very relevant and recently published books provide insight to the Joy of learning and will be highlighted in the discussions in this blog.  I recommend reading both books. They are: 

A Whole New Engineer: The Coming Revolution in Engineering Education by David E. Goldberg and Mark Somerville

 Joy Inc : How We Built a Workplace People Love by Richard Sheridan


K-12 STEM Outreach: Starting the Journey to Student Joy in Learning 

In “STEM Demands Innovation”, I wrote of STEM(science-technology-engineering-math) outreach efforts such as the FIRST Robotics competition that has made such a huge difference in inspiring high school students about engineering and STEM, and bringing them the joy of learning.  It cannot be overstated how much fun students have at these competitions!  Key to FIRST are corporate partnerships within a community; employees volunteer their expertise to FIRST teams and provide technical know-how and mentoring on engineering and teamwork.  

There are a number of significant and well-established outreach programs;  I have listed my favorite ones in my K-12 links.   Many companies have supported STEM outreach;  I hope more companies will join the call for participation. Often employees find joy and fun in volunteering.  With the current expected shortage of U.S. STEM professionals, it is imperative that STEM outreach programs are supported.     

The Importance of Joy of Learning in Developing the "Whole New Engineer"

Engineering education research has been a driving force in guiding engineering colleges in transformative initiatives to improve both instruction and pedagogy for effective, experiential learning.  But often, it is not enough. Professors assume that the students are already motivated in an engineering career, when students have their own doubts, especially when the courses get tough and they cannot see their future in engineering in 4-6 years. Professors and their assistants may not be engaging enough and connect with campus issues that students are experiencing.   In addition, a student may feel he/she does not fit in and drop-out.  Students experiencing the joy of learning and colleges/faculty celebrating with students on their successes or achieving milestones such as completion of a course project, gaining secondary admission or completion of an internship will go a long way in engaging students and achieving a higher student retention rate.   

As I discussed in my article, A Whole New Engineer: The Coming Revolution in Engineering Education (ThreeJoy Associates, 2014) is a new book that recommends a significant cultural transformation for engineering education.  The authors, David E. Goldberg and Mark Somerville, propose an increased focus on a real student-centered culture.  Their five-pillar educational transformational model of values  joy, trust, courage, connection and openness rings true for student success and is consistent with a student-centered, quality-oriented educational culture.  It encourages students' deep-learning, creative thinking and the students' confident view of becoming engineers.   Less focus on a “weeding-out”culture, and more on coaching and mentoring for student success and an enjoyable learning experiences. As a result, students feel they are empowered and inspired in their academic/career paths as future engineers.   Some engineering colleges already have or are making the transformation to  a student-focused learning  culture. This book provides a model and recommendations for a more complete transformation. 

Joy of Learning at Engineering Colleges and in the Workplace : A Quality Experience

In A Whole New Engineer, the authors propose that the " joy pillar" for a successful engineering education program includes three kinds of joy:

  •          “the joy of engineering in designing and making”
  •          “ the joy of close relationships”
  •          “the joy in growth and development”.

Together, they define an integrated view of joy of learning.  

When I read A Whole New Engineer, I was reminded of the research and work of quality management expert Myron Tribus on joy of learning and quality in education. Tribus was one of the early leaders (starting in the 1970s) on defining successful quality in education systems,  empowering students in their learning, including in engineering colleges.  Since then, these ideas on Quality in Education have been expanded upon by Franklin Schargel, David Langford, Lee Jenkins and others, and successfully applied in schools.  

In his article,  “Total Quality in Schools of Business and Engineering”,  Tribus wrote ,

” QUALITY in education is what makes learning a pleasure and a joy…  It takes a quality experience to create an independent learner…Teachers must be ever alert to engage the students in a discussion of what constitutes a quality experience.”  

 Tribus’ joy of learning provided me the insight that we may connect the ideas in A Whole New Engineer, ideas that are very engineering education-centric , with the ideas from the field of Quality in Education.   A strong connection exists between a quality management system (and culture) for engineering education and  the  joy of learning engineering.  As I see it, if we do not start with joy and celebration of learning in the freshman year and finish with joy of learning from experiences in the senior year, somehow the engineering college has not accomplished its vision for its graduates. (Of course, the practices that lead to joy of learning must be integrated with the academic and teaching/learning processes that provide the rigor for an engineering education.)   Furthermore, without students having the joy of learning as seniors, we risk a lower retention of graduates as engaged practicing engineers.  Mentoring students throughout their college years  and helping them feel joy and celebrate their learning experiences matters for their future career.

The Culture of Joy in the Workplace

In support of these ideas, consider the discussion of a culture of joy from the workplace  perspective:  Richard Sheridan, author of Joy Inc : How We Built a Workplace People Love (Portfolio, 2013, 2015)  and CEO of  Menlo Innovations (Ann Arbor) writes in Joy Inc. of creating a culture of joy at Menlo Innovations.  He describe joy in the workplace as

" Joy is designing and building something that actually sees the light of day and is enjoyably used and widely adopted by the people for whom it was intended."

 In building this culture, he has adopted many ideas from lean methodology and quality management.  In connecting quality thinking with the "joy" workplace culture, Sheridan writes:

"Alongside all the practices that contribute to quality at Menlo is the upward spiral of morale that comes from knowing you are operating within an environment where it is safe and respected to do good work.  Rigor and discipline are hard, and it's always easy to say, "Tomorrow I will do better." Tomorrow never comes- it is the actions we take today that make all the difference.  If you can get your entire team into a disciplined routine of applying a rigorous approach you all believe in, and the effects become noticeable, morale soars even if the rigor is difficult.  It is in these moments of rigor that the seeds of joy are planted.  When your team enjoys the fruits of their labor, there will be an undeniable satisfaction that boosts morale and gets everyone ready to do it all again." 

These thoughts transition well to engineering education. In any engineering education program, academic rigor and well-defined quality processes are needed to ensure a quality education, and with a culture that celebrates joy of learning, there is a sense of accomplishment, leading to joy.   

Corporate-Sponsored Internships Add to the Joy of Learning Engineering

In today’s engineering education programs, it is expected that students have had internships or co-ops with industry by the time they graduate.  A recent Gallup poll indicates that having an internship is one of the six college experiences linked to life-preparedness.  A well-planned internship/co-op program can also bring “joy of learning” to students.  Companies who sponsor internships or capstones can show students the possibilities of their career paths and the exciting challenges of engineering new products.

Summary: A Call for Joy of Learning 

In summary, a "Joy" culture belongs in engineering colleges as well as the STEM workplace.  We need more engineers, we need to replace “weeding out” students in the freshman and sophomore years, with supportive, inclusive and innovative curricula that excite students and bring them joy of learning,  such as experiencing hands-on “real-world” projects.   Engineering education leaders have the vision of students enjoying their college years, graduating and becoming successful engineers in their communities.  More can be done in our engineering colleges in creating a more student-centered "joy of learning" culture, leading to a quality education and the graduation of 21st century engineers serving their communities and enjoying their careers as engineers.  

Cindy Veenstra, PhD, Veenstra and Associates