STEM TRAIL Center expands UNO STEM program capabilities

Photo courtesy of UNO Communications

Ashley Morton

STEM educators are in high-demand nationwide and Omaha has certainly been feeling the shortage.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is striving to fix the problem. On Friday, March 29, the University of Nebraska Board of Regents approved the creation of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Teaching, Research, and Inquiry-Based Learning (STEM TRAIL) Center.

The aim of the center is to support existing UNO STEM programs and expand the program’s capabilities. It would also bring faculty from different disciplines together and make UNO more competitive in acquiring federal grants for STEM.

Those involved with the proposal and center’s plans say they will measure success by monitoring gains in recruitment, retention and graduation in different STEM disciplines.

Christine Cutucache, UNO’s Haddix Community Chair of Science, will serve as acting executive director of the center until a permanent director is established and understands just how important a center like this is.

“The training of teachers, and other areas that Nebraska presents with having such stark needs for employment, is critical to meet local, regional, and national stakeholder needs,” Cutuache said.

Although the center requires approval by the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education, Cutucache is very optimistic about this latest development.

“The STEM TRAIL Center will become a unified entity and point-of-contact for other external organizations to initiate partnerships with UNO,” Cutuache said. “These partnerships will particularly help bring STEM professionals already in the workforce into UNO STEM initiatives, helping to educate the future STEM workforce.”

UNO has a long-standing history of campaigning for STEM programs and their contributions to academics and the community. STEM is a priority for UNO which is why it offers a variety of programs in STEM fields. Just some of the many reasons why UNO is the ideal university and community to grow this initiative.

“UNO has a long track record of stellar teacher training through comprehensive coursework, practicum, and extracurricular teaching experiences that include national visibility,” Cutuache said.

Part of the committee’s proposal is to establish a physical, permanent location for the STEM TRAIL Center at some point. While a timeline has not been established as of yet, the goal of a physical location for the center is clear.

Cutucache said they “hope to have a place for lifelong learners to actively engage with the campus long-term.”

“We want STEM to be a place where all learners are welcomed before, during, and after their time at the University, and to engage local residents,” Cutucache said.

Lacy West, a UNO alumna, as well as a 2018 recipient of the I.O.W.A STEM award, is thrilled about the recent Board approval and what that means for UNO:

“I feel that STEM education is so important due to the demand of STEM careers today,” Westsaid. “The more we expose students at all levels to these types of experiences, the more likely they will find a passion for STEM.”

Meanwhile, the committee awaits the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education’s decision in May. Cutucache said they will spend the May timeline gearing up for that discussion and further listen to stakeholder needs and interests to ensure a successful launch, if approved.

To find out more information on this project and to learn updates as it progresses, check out the university’s website.