(TNS) — NEW HAVEN — Southern Connecticut State University is leading an initiative to help its science students transition from the laboratory to the boardroom.
For two years under SCSU President Mary Papazian, the university has sponsored several interdisciplinary STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) initiatives that combine STEM fields with others, such as business and philosophy.
Christine Broadbridge, a physics professor and director of STEM Initiatives at the university, said the program’s aim is to build partnerships and create a broader base of knowledge for SCSU students.
“The goal is to be collaborative,” Broadbridge said.
They incorporate project-based learning methods, wherein teams of students are presented with real problems, such as a question from a company as to how it can improve its product or expand its reach, and investigate the issue while drawing from the strengths and knowledge of all members of the team.
“In the way society is going, it’s more and more the case that employers will give you a problem to solve and they’re going to need you to know what kind of knowledge or approach you need to solve that problem,” Broadbridge said.
Ellen Durnin, dean of the School of Business, said this collaborative, interdisciplinary approach is being rolled out at all levels of the university, including the graduate level.
“We match up physics students with MBA students, and sometimes the physics student might have an idea for a product they would like to create, but they don’t have the business background,” Durnin said. “Their strengths complement one another.”
Durnin said the advantage to exposing students to targeted interdisciplinary methods is that a student with experience in the sciences will gain the skills and experience to create a business plan, learn how to market it and schedule a supply chain from marketing to inventory to delivery to pricing.
“It’s been a real success among our graduate programs, and (Broadbridge and I) both feel having that crossover or partnership raises the quality of both academic programs,” she said.
Durnin said several businesses have an ongoing partnership with SCSU because their interest in using graduates with a knowledge of physics for manufacturing technologies.
“There may be some very talented students they can hire at some point, and it brings in and provides students with hands-on, real work relevant to their field,” she said.
Durnin said she believes the partnership benefits students “both ways,” as business students see both the creative and methodical approaches STEM students take when doing research or developing a product, and the STEM students get managerial experience or can become comfortable tailoring a pitch to a boardroom.
Broadbridge said the initiative extends to the university’s sustainability efforts and its recent push for nanotechnology research.
“When we get business students, we get them past their initial fear and make them realize that science isn’t what they think it is; they think of it as black and white and not creative, and that’s the thing we’re working on with this office,” she said, adding that the university’s new STEM building is rife with artwork as a tribute to creativity in science.
Sarah Roe, an assistant professor of philosophy at the university with a specialty in bioethics, said she is scheduled to collaborate with the Research Center on Values in Emerging Science and Technology in the coming Fall semester.
“We’re mindfully guiding them to become aware of people, environments and places that could be harmed or benefited by their actions,” she said. “Concerns in bioethics are important to those studying biology or conducting STEM research.”
Roe said that she doesn’t just see teaching ethics to scientists as a benefit, but as something that should be a requirement.
“I think we service our students far better (by teaching ethics) than just teaching them the nuts-and-bolts,” she said. “We’re teaching them the ins-and-outs of the profession.”
Roe said the program is successful if it trains students to look beyond scientific research, and to take a step outside themselves and evaluate ethical questions.
“We really want individuals across society that are STEM literate,” Broadbridge said. “That’s important for the future of our economy, and even if individuals don’t get streaight-up STEM jobs, most jobs require STEM literacy.”
Broadbridge said a broad knowledge base is needed in today’s working economy, and many STEM fields, such as computer science and nanotechnology, implement interdisciplinary practices by their very nature.
“Those that have the backgrounds and the soft skills such as working in teams and with other people and communication will be the ones that will get the jobs,” she said.
©2015 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.