Explore the rest of our education series "Getting Schooled."
Pixelligent is a fast-growing technology company, but it has a challenge: The company needs more people in the lab.
In Baltimore, Pixelligent manipulates molecules less than a thousandth the diameter of a human hair. The nanotechnology is used inside flat-panel displays and LEDs, making them brighter. Selling their product is not the problem. The issue, however, is finding qualified workers to make the product.
“Now, we have major commitments out there to customers all over the world, and we have to have the people to deliver,” said Pixelligent CEO Craig Bandes, adding that the company has recruiters and HR people scouring the country to fill the open positions. “For us, unemployment is zero percent.”
What Bandes needs are people with STEM degrees — science, technology, engineering and math. “Some of our positions have been open for three, four, five months, and that means something is not getting done,” he said.
It's a need that’s been echoed in high echelons. In December 2012, President Barack Obama announced a goal to increase the number of STEM graduates by 1 million in the next decade. About a quarter of college students pursuing STEM majors switch to other subjects, according to the Department of Education, and another quarter drop out of college entirely.
At North Carolina State University in Raleigh, Bob Beichner has is stepping up to the task to work to retain STEM students by designing a different kind of classroom — one that's flipped around.
Leaving the lecture behind
Think of the Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs, or SCALE-UP for short, as higher education turned on its head. For starters, students don’t spend their class time frantically copying down facts and formulae. There are no lectures. They get their information outside of class.
"There’s videos available on the web that they could watch. They can find things on YouTube," said Beichner, director of N.C. State’s STEM Education Initiative and a physics professor. "They can do searches on Wikipedia, I really don’t care where they get the information."
In his physics class, Beichner’s students work on difficult, hands-on problems. They sit around seven-foot diameter tables and work collaboratively in three teams of three, essentially swapping the roles of the lecture and homework.
“It requires a philosophical change,” said Beichner. “What’s the role of a teacher? To dispense, transmit information? Well, that was true 15 years ago before there was Google, but now I can pull out my cell phone and find something that more up to date than what the lecturer is talking about.”