Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2007

HJR 611: Joint Subcommittee to Study Science and Technology Education in Graduate Programs

September 5, 2007

The joint subcommittee directed to study ways to promote the inclusion of science and technology education in business, law, and policy graduate programs at state institutions of higher education, held its second meeting on September 5, 2007, with Delegate Harry R. Purkey serving as chair and Senator Frank M. Ruff, Jr., as vice-chair.

Produced in Virginia
Dr. James Groves, Assistant Dean for Research and Outreach at the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science, provided the joint subcommittee with a presentation regarding its "Produced in Virginia" engineering program. The pilot program, developed in conjunction with the Central Virginia Community College in Lynchburg and area industries such as Areva and Micron Technologies, allows students to earn an associate’s degree in engineering at community college, and then continue their studies towards a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Virginia while remaining in their communities.

Students began Central Virginia Community College's new Associate of Science in Engineering program this fall; University of Virginia anticipates making bachelor’s level engineering classes available to students who complete the associate’s degree beginning in May of 2009. The University of Virginia classes will be offered in an online, asynchronous distance learning format. The goal of the program is to provide greater access to an engineering education in the Commonwealth, while allowing students to stay in their community. More information about the program is available online at www.seas.virginia.edu/producedinva.

Integrated Science and Technology Programs
Dr. Ron Kander, head of the Department of Integrated Science and Technology (ISAT) at James Madison University, provided an overview of the ISAT programs. The undergraduate degree program, which graduated its first class in 1997, was designed in response to a legislative challenge to develop "degrees of the future." ISAT now offers a graduate program, as well as the opportunity for undergraduate majors to seamlessly move into an MBA program after graduation.

The focus of the ISAT program is a new way to teach applied sciences. Instead of studying individual science fields, such as biology or chemistry, students focus on problems with a scientific component -- such as how to develop renewable energy or bioinformatics issues. Students study not only the sciences related to these issues, but also the social, economic, political, legal, and ethical issues components of the issues. There is also a strong focus on critical thinking and communication skills in the program. More information about the ISAT program can be found at www.jmu.edu/cisat/.

Business Perspective
Doug Koelemay, representing the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC), responded to requests from the joint subcommittee at its first meeting to get a business perspective on the need to incorporate science, technology, and math education into business, law, and policy programs. He said that NVTC surveyed two groups of businesses with questions such as:

How important is a science background for a job applicant?

Would a science or technology background help in a policy-related position?

Is your company satisfied with the amount of science and technology education currently provided in policy education programs?

Companies that elected to serve on NVTC's legislative and policy committee were among the first to answer the questions. While there were no absolute answers, the group largely conveyed that the marketplace would dictate education needs and market competitiveness would drive students to seek the skills and specialties necessary to acquire good jobs. Instead of focusing on science and technology education at the graduate level, the group felt emphasis should be placed on supplying the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) pipeline in general, emphasizing that robust instruction be available in these areas.

The second group surveyed was comprised of large government contractors located in the Northern Virginia area. The group felt that it would be helpful for policy graduates to have a STEM background. Responses also revealed that the group thought that graduate programs in business, policy, and law should offer classes in understanding technology. The group stated that a graduate with a STEM background would have an advantage over an otherwise comparable candidate.

Several representatives from public institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth were present at the meeting to answer questions from the members and to talk about current efforts to create interdisciplinary programs. One theme that emerged was the need for more graduate stipends to encourage graduate education. Delegate Purkey suggested that the joint subcommittee explore ways that innovative tax policies, such as tax credits, could be used to encourage private sector investment in stipends and graduate research.

In setting the agenda for future meetings, the joint subcommittee identified several issues for future discussion, including:

  • Creating tax incentives, such as tax credits.
  • Incorporating STEM education into graduate business, law, and policy programs.
  • Researching the number of graduate students that remain in Virginia after they complete their degree.
  • Developing an issue statement to guide the joint subcommittee in its directives.

Work Plan and Next Meeting
The joint subcommittee will meet again in early October and the date will be posted online on the DLS sponsored website and the General Assembly Calendar when available.

The Hon. Harry R. Purkey

For information, contact:
Lisa Wallmeyer, Jessica Eades, DLS Staff


Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2007

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