STEM preparing students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics

CU alumna Michele Hess coordinates a multitude of database and application information at Great Plains Technology Center

Thanks to a multitude of state, regional and national programs and initiatives, the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines are growing in popularity. Cameron University is committed to such initiatives, with approximately 40 percent of CU degree programs falling under the STEM “umbrella.” Cameron graduates who earn degrees in these areas are primed for career success in a wide variety of fields.

Michele Hess earned two CU STEM degrees: an Associate in Applied Science in Information Technology and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems. Hess had first enrolled at CU after high school, taking classes for one semester and then moving on with “life.” Some 20 years later, she was working as a butcher when she decided to finish her long-held dream of getting a college degree. Today, she is the Database/Application Specialist at Great Plains Technology Center.

“As a non-traditional student entering higher education at a later age, Cameron seemed to be the best option available,” Hess says. “I found Cameron’s Computer Information Science degree plan challenging, and combining this degree with an IT degree prepared me to enter an IT career as a professional, ready to meet the challenges of day-to-day operations of large companies with multiple computing needs. At Cameron, I learned the concepts necessary for success, not just solving problems laid out in a textbook or lab exercise. I was prepared to think, troubleshoot, decide and act while solving real-world computing problems.”

Hess says that her Cameron education consisted of more than “book learning.” “I was able to build leadership skills that have prepared me for professional life. As the Team Leader in my capstone project, I learned to manage people, data, and outcomes effectively. More than 35 people worked together to create a finished product that accomplished two goals: it showed our skills and abilities to solve a real-world problem and it demonstrated that we could create a practical, real-world solution that could be implemented and used by business and industry.”

The combined capstone allowed Hess and her fellow students to benefit from the expertise of numerous faculty experts. In addition, it provided the opportunity to develop communication skills necessary for long-term success.

“No project is complete without documentation and written technical support,” Hess says. “This skill seems rare in the IT world, and it makes
all the difference between short-term solutions and long-term success. In my current position, I understand that the skills I learned in the Cameron classroom stretch across the entire STEM spectrum.”

Hess is hard-pressed to single out one faculty member. “The entire Computing and Technology faculty was always supportive. If one professor was unavailable, another stepped up to help. Mr.
(Mike) Estep always had a plan that pointed me in the right direction, which is essential to college success. Mr. (Dave) Smith was always available to answer questions and help me to understand the coursework. Mrs. (Mary) Penick noticed my struggles with her Technical Communication class and was always willing to help me. She would find the most interesting ways to motivate and challenge me.”

Now as an IT professional, Hess says that her job responsibilities span the STEM disciplines. “Computer science is the basis for everything I do. Technology is constantly changing, so I must keep up with it. Database creation and implementation requires a great amount of engineering, and the statistical data I provide to my colleagues is very formula driven, so a solid foundation in mathematics is essential.”

The mathematics element of STEM is one that could easily be the most underestimated, as public opinion holds that all you can do with a degree in mathematics is teach. In fact, mathematics opens the door to a variety of career paths. According to the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), a study by Pay-scale indicates that the top 15 highest-earning college degrees have a common element: mathematics. Not only do many professions and majors (such as engineering, medical degrees, physics, computer science, actuarial science, etc.) require courses in mathematics, but the analytical and problem-solving skills students learn in mathematics can apply to all disciplines.

Written by: Janet Williams, Cameron University
Featured in: Cameron University Magazine Fall/Winter 2016