Monday, November 7, 2011

Has Harrisburg University Failed their Mission?

You've probably heard that The Harrisburg University of Science and Technology is a "STEM" school, but what is that really?

 “STEM education is an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise enabling the development of STEM literacy and with it the ability to compete in the new economy."-Tsupros, N., R. Kohler, and J. Hallinen, 2009. STEM education: A project to identify the missing components.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and  Mathematics) education is not really anything new, although it represents a shift in how science education is being conducted. Good science educators have know all along that hands-on cross-discipline education was the most effective way to reach students. When your 8th grade science teacher had you building model rockets before your trip to the Space Museum, you were participating in STEM education. You learned about math and physics, aerospace engineering, chemistry and how those sciences were applied in the real world.

How would the STEM philosophy apply at a school like Harrisburg University? Lets say Harrisburg University had a relationship with The Space Corporation who built satellite delivery systems. Harrisburg University educators could tailor make a program that could include building a model rocket delivery system, computer modeling a rocket system, and developing efficient and safe rocket propellant. The students would be able to utilize math, physics, chemistry and computer technology in a real world environment. The Space Corporation would financially support the program and offer internships to the students. Everybody wins. The students get an excellent education and a good job, The Space Corporation gets well prepared employees and the local economy gets taxpayers and consumers.

This was the basic idea behind   Harrisburg University. This idea is reflected in Harrisburg University's Mission Statement "The Harrisburg University of Science and Technology is an independent educational institution offering academic and research programs in mathematics, science, and technology designed to meet the needs of the region's youth, workforce, and businesses, and to expand, attract, and create economic opportunities in the region."

So what approach has HUST taken towards STEM education? Well, they invested heavily in and hired directors for Entertainment & Learning Technologies, "e"Business and Management and more Learning Technologies. Check out the director's salaries:

Only the President, Provost and CFO make more than the directors.

Go ahead, take a minute, we'll wait.

Harrisburg University directors have a critical job: "Since HU intentionally does not have a departmental structure, program leaders represent the structured, interdisciplinary substitute for traditional departmental chairs. They are responsible for curriculum quality, recruitment of members of the corporate community to advisory groups and as members of the corporate faculty, and the building of linkages among programs at HU. They are expected to make manifest HU’s commitment to the teaching-focused, career competency, interdisciplinary learning model arising from HU’s mission and sustainability model."-HUST Report of Self-Study 2008-09

It's a good thing  the other STEM directors balance out the curriculum and support the science component of Harrisburg University.  The Director of Science, the Director of Mathematics and The Director of Engineering have all been working hard to insure that HUST students get a solid science-based education.

Nah, I'm just kidding, there are no science directors.  It's pretty clear that "STEM" is only a marketing tool for HUST, not a serious commitment.

There is nothing wrong with Entertainment & Learning Technologies, "e"Business and Management and more Learning Technologies, they may very well have their place at a STEM school, but they, in themselves, are not STEM programs (The NSF defines STEM as biological sciences; physical sciences, including physics, chemistry, astronomy, and materials science; mathematical sciences; computer and information sciences; geosciences and engineering and technology areas associated with the preceding fields.) The Provost has also championed Digital Health, Entrepreneurship, Information & Communication Technologies, Interactive Media Management and Management. None of them are appropriate for Harrisburg University.

These programs may have a place at a STEM school, but not one that has yet to fully staff and equip its STEM programs. The school should be concentrating on solid, basic SCIENCE. You know, the kind of thing you might find at a school that claims to be a teach science, technology, engineering, and  mathematics. (James Madison has a real STEM school if you are curious.) How are students to apply science if they don't understand the basics first?

" [Harrisburg University is] based on the simple but grand concept of creating a private, undergraduate and graduate degree granting, not-for-profit, and, above all....not a 4-year technical college..." -HUST Report of Self-Study 2008-09

"HU is ....not a technical institute." -HUST Report of Self-Study 2008-09

Despite those words, Harrisburg University has indeed become a technical institute. The school has simply failed it's mission. 


  1. This is why students leave. We didn't go to HU for all this business gen ed crap. And we won't stay either.

  2. Generally, one has to take some pre-reqs wherever one goes. Slight bias here that is pro-business.

  3. It should be mentioned that the faculty for the most part does not have time to research and we do no receive any support from Eric. If we apply for a grant, HU would need to offer us matching funds -- something the provost has refused. Faculty can't be experts if we don't conduct research. We all lose. The School because it has become a joke in the academic community, the students because they don't get to engage in hands-on science in the real world and the faculty because they are less employable elsewhere and fall behind in their field. And HU's labs are very poorly equipped, which could be remedied in part with external funding. HU is doing a piss-poor job as an institute of science.

  4. Research? Wouldn't you need labs or something for that? You would need something better than high school levels labs right?

  5. There is science going on at HU, but the school does not care about it unless they can form a "advanced center" around it. They only support programs that get them press coverage.