Looking for STEM in Delaware

By Dr. Randolph Guschl

I am Interim Executive Director for the Delaware Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education (DFSME). I am a long-time resident of Delaware who has been personally connected to science education in this state for a good portion of my career. I am a retired scientist who was involved for over 40 years in DuPont’s major local and national efforts in science education, and as a founding member of DFSME and a member of the Governor’s STEM Council, I have a strong interest in the success of STEM education in Delaware. My first mission as the head of DFSME has been to investigate what is currently going on here in STEM education. So what do I see and hear?

For the past 3 months I have had a fascinating series of visits and interviews with leaders in STEM education in Delaware, and I am impressed with what is going on in our state. I saw great things in Brandywine, Indian River, and New Castle County Vo-Tech schools. However, many of these successes are isolated or are known only to those experiencing them. In order to make these successes system-wide, we must increase communication and advocacy associated with such programs. Both DFSME and the Governor’s STEM Council recognize that coordination among these programs and the people involved in them will increase their impact. We have successfully put together a number of pieces of the STEM education puzzle but many more are needed to complete the picture. It is the job of DFSME and the STEM Council to identify the missing pieces and address the barriers that prevent them from being put in place.

One thing I have discovered is that even among the strongest of STEM supporters, there seems to be little agreement about what STEM really means and what fields it encompasses.  Most often, the passionate teachers, administrators and supporters want to see more STEM education in the classroom. However, state and business leaders do not always think it reflects the bigger picture. In order for audiences not to turn off as soon as they hear the words “STEM education” the terms need to be better defined and understood. There is a growing momentum in the rest of the nation to see STEM as a key factor in over 60% of all jobs in the U.S. These jobs include more than the aerospace, chemical and auto industries that first used the phrase. They also include other huge industries, including the food, agriculture, healthcare, biotechnology and information technology industries—many of which have a footprint in Delaware and need a local, STEM-savvy workforce. We have to teach our Delaware audience that STEM encompasses all these industries and more.

We must also recognize that STEM is not just the content of science and engineering nor is it just memorized facts. It is the hands-on, inquiry-based experience that goes beyond the labs staged in many high school text books. Delaware actually has a head start through its earlier statewide adoption of the “Smithsonian Project” which made our small state a leader in teaching methods. Introducing STEM using hands-on, inquiry based teaching methodology means our students can experience the fact-gathering and synthesis, the exploration and discovery that allow them to make their own informed decisions and that permit students to develop skills and experience the excitement of using these skills to create things and understand their world. Students with these experiences will be better able to envision themselves in exciting, high-paying jobs and careers. More of them will be able to see the point of entering certificate programs, two-year programs, or four-year programs. But the spread of advanced technology into so many jobs is not the only reason that we need this renewed emphasis and improved communication related to STEM. As so many teachers remind me, it’s not just those who pursue those careers who need these skills; we need every citizen to experience and be able to use these skills in order to make their own informed decisions about the many technological issues involved in daily life, now and in the future.

The leadership of this state and our school districts are aware of this. But we need to help them see the urgency of coordinating all these efforts, whether in colleges, community colleges, K-12 schools, or outreach programs. All are parts of serving the same need. Let’s continue to discuss STEM so we can open doors for understanding, and to highlight the progress and successes of our leaders, teachers, and students in these areas. Let’s find out where amazing partnerships between industry and education are making things happen, and let’s make sure everyone learns about those programs and has the opportunity to see how they might be part of such programs. Let’s create a forum available to everyone so these successes can proliferate.

Who should be the players? Teachers? Administrators? Students? Parents? Businesses? Government leaders? Ordinary citizens whether actively employed or retired? Yes to all of the above and more. Let’s share our successes and help each other work together. Let’s find and address the gaps and problems, together.

I would appreciate your feedback and offers to share your successes. DFSME and the STEM Council are but two of many groups working toward common goals. We can use letters such as this one to tell our stories and identify other like-minded groups to join a growing alliance of groups interested in working for the common cause.

Please feel to write, email or call me at