Alfred Bryant and Tasha Inniss concluded the workshop sessions with some summary comments. Bryant noted the importance of good leadership, flexibility in decision making, and the ability to seize the opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic to make higher education more student-centered. The role of leadership in maintaining campus culture was critical when institutions transitioned to a virtual environment, and it will be critical in responding to the social justice issues arising today. Bryant also commented on the opportunities that technology has created for increasing access to classes and conferences, and he recommended that this continue.
Inniss highlighted the importance of resilience for institutions, students, faculty, and staff and of ensuring access and equity for all students. She also listed the need to display care and empathy for students, the need for data and research, and the importance of focusing on human-centered experiences and support. Going forward, she said, educators need to humanize engagement with their students and each other, as well as to support students who are experiencing multiple traumas.
To conclude the workshop series, Inniss provided a list of topics that were discussed as good candidates for further research investigation.
- Who has left STEM higher education because of the COVID-19 pandemic or other pandemics?
- Which populations are most affected and at what stage of education?
- How can we reengage them to return to STEM education?
- What online remote strategies help students develop a sense of belonging, feel encouraged to continue their studies, and feel connected to the institution and their majors?
- What mode of instruction works best for whom?
- Do student preferences track with performance?
- What is the effectiveness of synchronous versus asynchronous student engagement strategies among various student demographic populations?
- What are the differential effects of all of the current stressors on students from different backgrounds? Students of color are affected more by the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism, and it is imperative to understand what the differential effects are.
- How can environments that are conducive to learning be described and assessed?
- What are the best approaches to examining performance and learning gains?
- What does providing faculty development opportunities mean in these current circumstances and future circumstances? What are other appropriate ways to support faculty during challenging circumstances?
- What is the effect of the colliding of multiple crises in our nation (e.g., the global health crisis, the political climate, social and racial justice issues, climate change)?
Inniss said that it is okay that higher education is learning on the fly and that the situation is constantly changing. This is, after all, a time to innovate and be futuristic in thinking and planning. In fact, she added, institutions may want to consider developing an innovation policy to address the current crisis and any future disruptions. “We are trying to adapt and be flexible, as we are trying to support our students and our campus communities,” she said. “It is a time not to be hopeless but to be filled with hope for STEM education and higher education in general for the future. We have what it takes to make it to the other side.” She quoted Dorothy Height, who said, “Greatness is not measured by what a man or women accomplishes, but by the opposition he or she has overcome to reach her goals.”
As a final thought, Inniss said that the goal in thinking about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on students and higher education’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is to prepare a robust and inclusive nationwide cohort of STEM students who in future years will enhance our national standing. It was her hope that the workshop’s participants received some nuggets of insight and information and that they would consider pursuing some of these research areas. “We heard of many studies that have begun with RAPID awards funded by the National Science Foundation, but there is more work to be done, not only in the research area, but also in the support of our students,” said Inniss.