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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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A passion for science and math education drives director of STEM outreach

Susan Brown was leery about leaving the classroom where she taught middle school science for 16 years because she loved inspiring students to get interested in science. But the opportunity to develop outreach programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields lured her to New Mexico State University's College of Education, where she had received her master's and doctoral degrees.


Woman with red jacket standing behind children
Susan Brown is director of the Southern New Mexico Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA) lab. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Since joining the graduate faculty full time 12 years ago, she has influenced thousands of New Mexico children to take an interest in STEM fields and garnered more than $7.5 million in funding for STEM outreach efforts.

Brown's motivation is making sure that more students know they have the capabilities to succeed in these fields, which she said is critical for the future of our nation. She pointed out that fewer than 15 percent of students in the U.S. receive degrees in STEM fields, which is dismal compared to France at 47 percent, China at 50 percent and Singapore at 67 percent.

"Most students do not even think about entering these fields and we have to change that. The key is to make science and math fun and connect to the world of the student," Brown said. "I have always loved science, but have often been frustrated seeing it taught in a boring and dull manner. We have to help students understand how exciting and interesting these fields can be."

Brown has done just that as the director of the Southern New Mexico Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy at NMSU, a collaboration of NASA, the NMSU colleges of education and engineering, public schools and volunteers. The program is designed to encourage underrepresented youth groups to take an interest in STEM fields through hands-on, inquiry-based science activities.

Brown also has garnered funding from the National Science Foundation for the recently completed Academy for Young Scientists program, which focused on reaching out to fifth-graders and their families.

Getting teachers excited about teaching these subjects is important, too, Brown said.

Brown founded Scientifically Connected Communities, a rapidly growing outreach program for science teachers that provides instructional and supply support from professional scientists. More than 500 PreK-12 teachers have participated in the program to date.

"We can certainly multiply our impact by teaching the teachers," she said. "Professional development for teachers is critical for helping students learn."

Although Brown said it is getting harder and harder to garner grant funding, she continues to work to keep her programs funded and bring new programs to Southern New Mexico.

"The opportunities these programs give to children are priceless," she said.

Brown is currently partnering to develop 21st Century Community Learning Centers and the NMSU GK12 program.

The learning centers are a collaborative of existing programs and are providing after-school programs in the Gadsden Independent School District.

The NMSU GK12 program integrates middle school science teachers and students in southern New Mexico with NMSU science graduate fellows and faculty to create an environment of inquiry-based learning in the public schools.

Brown is the co-president of the New Mexico Math and Science Partnership. As a professor at NMSU, she teaches early childhood science education and elementary science methods. She also continues to publish each year. In her most recent research, she is looking at why some Hispanic students choose science and technology majors, while the majority does not.

Brown has received a Presidential Award for Science Teaching from President Bill Clinton and is a National Board Certified Teacher.