By B.L. Wilson
A restaurateur planning purchases and creating a business model, a researcher mapping behavioral patterns in a town or analyzing the link between daytime electrical power use and greenhouse gases both can rely on computing, programming and coding skills to lead to new insights.
A new STEMworks center opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday in the George Washington University’s Gelman Library will provide support for GW faculty and students in quantitative analysis, processing data and spatial reasoning across disciplines.
GW Provost Forrest Maltzman said STEMworks might have saved him a month-long hassle with a statistical problem on his dissertation analyzing whether the House Agriculture Committee reflected the overall preferences of members of the House of Representatives.
“There was no computer program that did that and no logical place to go for help,” Dr. Maltzman said. He had to devise his own program. Now, GW students and faculty seeking to break ground in research and forge new paths on assignments will be able to turn to STEMworks.
“We have incredible students at GW, and they want to be prepared for the world of the future and in the world of the future, analytics… the analyzing of data and trying to figure out patterns is a key part of it,” he said.
STEMworks, located near the main entrance to Gelman, aims to boosts data skills just as the Writing Center does for writing
Over the summer, Dean of Libraries and Academic Innovation Geneva Henry worked to configure the space and equip it with a state-of-the-art video telepresence system donated by Cisco. The room has been outfitted with power stanchions placed throughout the room and desks on wheels that allow for highly mobile interactions among students and faculty.
“The library is the right place to open this up,” she said. “We are here, no questions asked, no judgments whatsoever, to support GW students and faculty. Making sure our students are successful is our number one priority.”
Program Associate Kes Schroer, who earned her doctoral degree in human paleobiology from GW, has been hired as a program associate. She’s passionate about STEM. “Whatever the students need, we are going to get them, especially in the quantitative skills,” she said. “I’m STEM all the way, in addition to being interested in building communities.”
STEMworks is offering a calendar of workshops for students who can also sign up for one-on-one tutorials and coaching offered by library staff and graduate students in different disciplines. A statistics consultant also has been brought on board.
Jasmina Abdalla, an undergraduate student in biology and a learning assistant, understands why people avoid STEM. She became a tutor because she believes the information is more accessible when offered by a peer. “I feel students are more open to you. They will tell you how they really feel when they may be reluctant to speak with a professor,” she said.
Several faculty and staff dropped by to see what the center is offering. Devin Belzer, a program manager in the School of Business, said business analytics is a growing field. STEMworks offers an opportunity to provide some students with the assistance they need and a chance for others to volunteer.
“We have really strong students, and we have students that struggle in areas,” she said. “So there is a way to bridge the gap between graduate and undergraduate students through STEMworks.”
Lorena Barba, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, said that for many students the vision of computing is limited at the moment to the use of search engines and office applications.
“Times are changing. Things like data science and how algorithms are used in all walks of life affect us in ways that are really important for young people to develop an understanding about,” Dr. Barba said. “These types of science and algorithms are being used to justify the sentencing of criminals, the promotion of teachers and other types of employees, depending on some analysis of their performance, all sorts of things that affect our lives.”
Dr. Maltzman said STEMworks adds another dimension to the learning experience at GW.
“The future of the world is actually putting different things together and thinking about problems from multiple perspectives,” he said, including the creative, analytical, moral and ethical part of it. “There are lots of different ways of addressing issues and problems to lead to solutions for society.”