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Corporation discusses STEM education, strategic planning

Members review plans for two new campus buildings

Updated June 1, 2015 at 3 p.m.

Corporation members held informal discussions with undergraduates about socioeconomic issues and science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses at their meeting this week, President Christina Paxson P’19 wrote in a community-wide email Friday.

The Corporation also accepted $25 million in gifts and reviewed progress on strategic planning and campus development at its annual May meeting.

Corporation members, administrators and students informally addressed the topics “STEM education at Brown” and “socioeconomic barriers to success at Brown,” Paxson wrote. The Undergraduate Council of Students selected 12 students to participate in each discussion on a first-come, first-serve basis, giving preference to upperclassmen and looking for a balance in campus involvement, said UCS President Sazzy Gourley ’16. The goal of the discussions was to “elevate student voices and issues not normally heard at the institutional level,” Gourley said.

In the discussion on STEM education, students touched upon the environments of introductory classes, the role of teaching assistants and the support offered within the classroom and from the Office of the Dean of the College, Gourley said.

Diversity in STEM fields surfaced as a key concern, with many students criticizing the “ways they feel Brown is lacking in supporting students from underrepresented minorities in science,” he said. Students stressed “the importance of bringing in dialogue of current events and race into the classroom,” he added.

Students also addressed STEM advising and the burden placed on peer mentoring groups, such as the Society of Women Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers, Women in Computer Science, Women in Science and Engineering and Departmental Undergraduate Groups, which need to receive more support, Gourley said.

Mental health support also fostered some discussion, with students telling Corporation members about the impact of teaching styles on their emotional well-being, he said.

In the discussion on socioeconomic issues, Gourley said students criticized the lack of clarity regarding which University resources are available to support first-generation students and students from low-income backgrounds.

The difference between actual and perceived need in financial aid awards also dominated the discussion, Gourley said. The student contribution figure places “a huge burden on students to sometimes work multiple on-campus jobs” and affects how involved students can become in social and extracurricular activities, he said. Many students noted that the summer earnings expectation has “major impacts” on summer opportunities, especially unpaid internships, he said. Brown-funded summer awards are “only slightly more than the actual summer earnings expectation,” he added, citing the $400 difference between the $3,100 expectation for upperclassmen and $3,500 stipend from the iProv Summer Internship Program.

“Assumptions about what students can provide for themselves once on campus” also emerged as a key topic of conversation, Gourley said. Many upperclassmen spoke of the difficulty of helping underclassmen navigate grocery shopping and finding meals, especially during Thanksgiving, spring and winter breaks when Dining Services maintains a different schedule, he said.

In the academic realm, students told Corporation members and administrators they sometimes “feel unable to take courses because they can’t afford the books to enroll,” Gourley said. 

“To some degree, some of the administrators present were aware of some of these issues. But for many of the Corporation members, these discussions were the first time they were hearing about these experiences and issues that students are facing — especially with regard to socioeconomic barriers,” Gourley said. While Brown has built a more diverse student body over the years, “a lot of the support resources for a more diverse student body are not in place at the level they need to be for these students,” he said. The discussions brought light to what resources are and are not available to students, he added.

Moving forward, Gourley said UCS will follow up with individual administrators and Corporation members to identify solutions to the issues raised in the discussions.

The Corporation appointed 11 new parents and alums to the Board of Trustees, Paxson wrote. Sixteen faculty members were appointed to named chairs, including Provost Vicki Colvin, who will assume the role of professor of chemistry and engineering July 1.

In committee meetings and as a whole, Corporation members discussed “emerging areas of academic interest and priority” including data sciences, master’s programs, and “online and engaged learning in both the School of Professional Studies and the College,” Paxson wrote.

The Corporation also reviewed plans for the new building to house the School of Engineering, the progress of the Applied Math building and “planning to address facility needs in the performing arts,” Paxson wrote. Construction for the new engineering building is “anticipated to begin at the end of this year,” while construction for the Applied Math building will finish in the fall, she wrote.

The Corporation accepted more than $25 million in gifts, including donations slated for creative writing, financial aid, professorships, BrownConnect awards, the President's Flexible Fund, the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society and the Brown Annual Fund, Paxson wrote.

In keeping with tradition for the annual May meeting, members of the Board of Fellows approved more than 2,400 degrees to be awarded at Sunday’s Commencement.



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