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'STEM' into math

Expo highlights science, technology, engineering and math

January 5, 2014
By KIM LOCCISANO - Staff Writer ( , Times Leader

STEM is one of those terms that suddenly pop up in everyday communications representing something which will clearly be taking up residence there for the foreseeable future.

The best advice: get comfortable with it and get used to such topics being integrated into the day-to-day exchanges of everyday people, or quickly find yourself lagging seriously behind the level of progress seen and enjoyed by others.

Its most modern application is as a means of representing the academic and career areas of study and knowledge seen in intellectual niches most often referred to as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM.

Article Photos

Belmont College faculty member Rita Zaborek and her love of 'pi' is something she easily shares in highly animated ways with eighth grade students from several local middle schools during the STEM Expo 2013. STEM programs are structured to highlight study areas and career paths centering on science, technology, engineering and math.

About 25 years ago, the U.S. led the world in high school and college graduations rates, but that is not at all the current reality.

Today the country is ranked on those points somewhere closer to 20th - not the kind of changes which will help this country maintain a strong leadership position on a global scale, say educators.

The highly respected World Economic Forum recently listed the U.S. as 48th in quality of math and science education.

According to research shared by the National Math and Science Initiative, almost 70 percent of the nation's high school graduates are not prepared to be successful in college level science classes.

More than half are said to not be ready for college math courses.

Those able to gain college admission standing, despite a shaky academic performance in areas like math and or science, will increasingly find their past frustrations hindering their current capabilities, performances and any related successes.

Incidents of these realities are on the rise, and they all increase the overall cost of a single student's education. They often also extend the length of time they remain students and thereby put further off into the future the point in time at which they become a contributing member of society.

Research seeking specific information on what educational practices need adjusted, overhauled or simply replaced is moving forward, but getting the necessary answers through research is hardly the best means of bringing about change to a system of education more often than not entrenched in stagnant past practice regulation settings.

But there is hope.

This is particularly true if you have the ability to become part of the student body at Belmont College in St. Clairsville and are able to successfully register for a higher math class. The class is taught by an exceptional educator who routinely rewards her captivated students with treats for their endeavors involving her favorite treat: a piece of "pie" - or more specifically "pi," a mathematical constant (represented by the Greek letter "pi") that represents the ratio of circle's circumference to its diameter.

One of the most successful advanced math teachers in the region and an avid supporter of increasing the STEM approach to education and career preparation in general is Rita Zaborek, a full-time higher math instructor at Belmont College.

Eighth grade students who recently attended Belmont College's STEM EXPO 2013 had the opportunity to sit in a 20-minute long session with Zaborek.

She quickly got them involved in exchanges motivating most to participate in the problem solving processes she offered them with the help of her unique "pi" plate and her own version of sweet rewards shared in the form of a large symbol for pi adorning the outside of a beautiful red apple - tagged as "apple pi."

Key points needing improvement in our national approach to increasing STEM courses and related areas of study include points that seem impossible to argue against: improving and increasing student engagement opportunities, motivation to make a lasting connection with such areas of study and as career path possibilities, and dramatically increasing exposure to STEM subjects.

Zaborek and her peers locally and regionally have been out in front of the identified vital points listed as the three most important for the success of STEM and related efforts. They also have been promoting the areas of study and talking up possible career options for students.

Each opportunity for learning in her classroom begins on a common point without fail: a positive message or experience for every group, and a gentle reminder of what will almost certainly come of negative thinking habits.

"Math is fun - yes it can be," is the starting thought for the math experience for students visiting the college for the STEM EXPO 2013.

Zaborek whole-heartedly believes math is fun and is dedicated not only to being a top quality teacher for each of her students, and a female in what has traditionally been a male-dominated field, but also happily champions the turnaround possibilities for those who enter her classroom committed to the singular idea they cannot succeed in any math class.

Students attending the local STEM EXPO 2013 were reminded in a very unexpected way that knowledge about STEM matters can have a direct application in everyday life in ways they may not have realized, such as in sports. Supporting the understanding that several aspects of STEM areas of expertise have a heavy influence in virtually every sport was Wheeling Nailers hockey team member Justin Smith, a forward on the current team roster.

The National Math & Science Initiative is tied to the U.S. Department of Education's effort to refocus on the core areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The initiative "works to increase instructional rigor in the classroom based on best practices from our first-hand experiences in implementing programs with proven effectiveness and quantified results."

But how does this mathematician feel about the mix of knowledge areas and their particular order in the popular term STEM? Wouldn't she rather see math represented at the front of the term rather than taking its place as its last letter?

Zaborek let her visiting students think about their views on the order of the intellectual areas and career paths represented by STEM and then shared her thoughts.

"Sure I would like to see the letter for math at the front of the word. But everyone knows you can't do any of the other things - science, technology, or engineering - unless you first know how math works. That means everything is built on a solid foundation provided by math. Without math you just would not have these other things," offered Zaborek.

Loccisano can be reached at



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