New Sulkin STEM Inclusion Science Odyssey Project to help promote diversity in new undergraduate major

by Brian Bingham
Director, WWU Marine and Coastal Science Program

Western's new Sulkin STEM Inclusion Science Odyssey Project was recently created by a $50,000 donation to the WWU Foundation by Steve and Shelley Sulkin.

Steve Sulkin, a Professor Emeritus at Western, served for 28 years as professor and director of the university’s Shannon Point Marine Center (SPMC). Shelley Sulkin obtained her Master’s degree in Education from Western and taught middle school science for 20 years in the Bellingham School system.

The purposes of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Inclusion program are three-fold: to introduce the target student audience to the possibility of pursuing education and careers in the sciences and to the opportunity to do so at Western; to illustrate the contributions of Western to the economic, cultural and educational development of the local community; and to promote better understanding of the value of Western faculty and graduate student research in addressing issues of local significance.

The project addresses these goals through a new course in Western’s summer Odyssey in Science & the Arts program managed by Outreach and Continuing Education. The course is entitled “Real World Applications of Environmental Research” and uses on-going research being conducted by faculty and graduate students as case studies for the students. The Sulkin fund will cover course fees and travel expenses to campus for approximately 20 students per year for up to 10 years.  The target student audiences include students in Bellingham and Whatcom County school districts whose racial and ethnic identities have been defined by the National Science Foundation as under- represented in STEM fields and those whose economic status would likely preclude their participation in the program.

The newly-created Marine and Coastal Science (MACS) program is a collaborative effort among the Departments of Environmental Sciences, Biology, and Geology and the Shannon Point Marine Center, thus providing focus to the university’s considerable human and physical resources in the marine and coastal sciences.  One of the main elements of MACS is the development of an undergraduate major in marine and coastal science.

Recruitment of a diverse student population into the new major is a goal of MACS, making the STEM Inclusion project is a good fit.

Western developed extensive experience in diversity education in the marine sciences through SPMC’s 25-year program funded by the National Science Foundation, entitled “Multicultural Initiative in Marine Science: Undergraduate Participation” (MIMSUP)."

The success of this program is illustrated by a database documenting student success subsequent to participating in MIMSUP and by SPMC’s receiving the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Math and Engineering Mentoring. 

One of the lessons learned during MIMSUP was that student recruitment, retention, and ultimate success in STEM fields is enhanced by early, hands-on exposure to the marine sciences. 

Shelley Sulkin’s extensive experience in teaching science at the middle school level informed the STEM Inclusion project’s focus on students at that level of education, explaining that “many middle school-age students have an interest in the coastal environment, are at an age when enthusiasm for hands-on learning about science is well-developed, but are unaware of the opportunities for study in the field leading to productive careers.” 

The close connection between STEM Inclusion and other elements of MACS can provide prospective students with a clear path to pursuing such opportunities and help the undergraduate major recruit well-informed and enthusiastic students into the program.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020 - 10:50am