STEM education leader visits UIC

NSF Lecture

Joan Ferrini-Mundy, assistant director for education and human resources at the National Science Foundation, speaks at UIC. ­(Photo: Vibhu S. Rangavasan)

During her visit to UIC Monday, Joan Ferrini-Mundy of the National Science Foundation listened to researchers about important work taking place on campus before giving a lecture on social change, innovation, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

Ferrini-Mundy, assistant director of the NSF for education and human resources, works to support excellence in U.S. STEM education in all levels and settings while growing and diversifying the workforce. Her title, which she earned in 2011, “doesn’t quite capture what [the assistant director’s] role is,” University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen said in his introduction.

“This is the leadership role in the nation for STEM education,” he said.

Ferrini-Mundy’s career began as a high school teacher. Before joining the NSF, she was a university distinguished professor of mathematics education at Michigan State University. In 2007, she began working for the NSF, and she was an ex-officio member of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, which reviewed research and provided recommendations to advance the teaching and learning of mathematics.

Currently, Ferrini-Mundy is co-chair of a top national strategic group, the White House National Science and Technology Council’s Federal Coordination in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education Task Force.

“She knows the landscape from every angle,” Killen said.

Her fierce advocacy for STEM education lies in her belief that “the notion that the teaching of mathematics, and I would expand that to STEM, is actually an activity of creating social change and empowerment,” she said, after reviewing the history of the “strong intellectual base in research and outreach” within the university system.

“Part of what is fantastic about UIC is the connections that are occurring…between the STEM community here and those concerned with social justice, inclusion and equity,” she said. “To be here…gives a very real sense of the incredible richness of UIC, and a more general richness of the entire system.”

The University of Illinois system has about 7,000 STEM graduates every year, Killeen noted.

“That’s about a third of our total production and a very important contribution to the Midwest and the state at large,” he said.

Chancellor Michael Amiridis emphasized that UIC is “striving to go further.”

The the university received a $300,000 grant from the NSF as part of a program for Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (INCLUDES).

“All of you who have written these fantastic proposals and have been saying, ‘Thank you for the NSF funding,’ but I need to turn that back around,” Ferrini-Mundy said. “You here at UIC, Urbana-Champaign and other parts of the system, you have fantastic ideas.

You do very well with your NSF funding, not because we’re especially generous to Illinois, but because you do good work — work that has built up over decades, making contributions in all parts of our mission and we look to you to continue to do even more.”

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