Grade four students at the Calgary Science School use iPads to test rotting fruit in class.
Michael Grondin/the Gauntlet

Helping tomorrow’s leaders

Imperial Oil donates $2.5 million to U of C’s faculty of education

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On November 6, Imperial Oil announced they would donate $2.5 million to the University of Calgary’s faculty of education to strengthen research and teaching in science, technology, engineering and math.

The Imperial Oil STEM Education Initiative will fund the U of C over a five-year period starting in 2013. This collaborative effort will target students from kindergarten to grade 12 and spark interest in STEM disciplines through hands-on projects and research. 

The donation will go towards researching effective teaching techniques, understanding students’ interests in STEM fields and preparing teachers to teach in these disciplines.

According to chairman and CEO of Imperial Oil Bruce March, there is a demand for qualified researchers and workers in STEM disciplines.

“It was sheer interest, without a doubt, to develop the research that makes understanding students and where their interests are and how to do work and make teachers better to keep students interested in science, math and technology,” said March.

March said Canada needs more university graduates in STEM fields. He said students and workers in these subjects are regarded as the top in the world.

“The one interesting thing is that, of the STEM graduates that Alberta and Canada produces, they have performed excellently in skills performance tests. They are at the very top,” said March. “This is really a question of pooling our interests in partnering together to keep the quality of education that’s there in the learning, but to attract more students.”

U of C faculty of education dean Dennis Sumara said the investment will help educators understand how to best teach young students in these fields.

“What we are trying to do is work together to improve the teaching in these disciplines in response to quite an urgent need,” said Sumara. “We know that we’re not actually preparing and developing enough scientists, technologists, engineers or mathematicians to move into careers.”

Sumara said there is not a large enough focus on students’ needs in primary and secondary schools. 

“One of our big issues in secondary schools now is that we have a large number of students who are not feeling intellectually engaged with their work,” said 
Sumara, adding that by grade seven, only 30 per cent of students feel engaged with STEM subjects. 

“That’s not good enough. Those students who are engaged do very well and they do move into universities and post-secondary. They get degrees in science and engineering and are highly accomplished and well-regarded all around the world. We want more of them,” he said.

Sumara said data will be collected from students in primary and secondary schools in Alberta to increase understanding of students’ interests.

“We are starting with early years of education. We are making interventions into middle school and secondary school, we are changing the curriculum of our teacher education program and we are working strongly with teachers in the field who are already experts in those areas,” said Sumara.

The U of C’s faculty of education will also establish a STEM research chair to oversee the work being done in this field. Weeklong summer camps specializing on STEM subjects will also be established at the U of C.