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WMU's "Big Ideas" In Science Compete For National Prize

Western Michigan University's College of Engineering - file photo by Andrew Robins, WMUK
Andrew Robins

Encouraging underrepresented groups to consider going into STEM fields, an incubator to help teachers develop ideas for science teaching and studying tipping points and reversibility of catastrophic events. The ideas from Western Michigan University are three of the 33 entries in the National Science Foundation’s 2026 Idea Machine.

Western’s Vice President for Research and Professor of Biological Sciences Terry Goss Kinzy says after hearing about the NSF initiative, she wanted the best and brightest ideas from Western entered into the national competition.

#WhyNotMe: STEM Diversity Drivers was inspired by the lack of women and minorities in STEM fields. Goss Kinzy says the answer to the question “why not me?” can have a positive or negative connotation. She says it’s important to recognize the barriers, and find ways to overcome them. The Director of Research for Western's Evaluation Center Lori Wingate says she was inspired by the oral history project StoryCorps heard regularly on NPR. She says the format allows people in STEM to tell stories about their lives, careers, and how they got interested in STEM fields.

Extended interview in WMUK's WestSouthwest podcast

The proposed STEM Teaching and Learning Incubator borrows from the idea of a tech incubator. Todd Ellis, Professor of Geography and Science Education, says it would give teachers who don’t have time and resources somewhere to experiment. Ellis says it relies on teachers to develop the ideas for instruction and experimentation.

The third idea comes from Anthropology Professor Billinda Straight, who is also a Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at WMU. Reversibility: Future of Life on Earth considers tipping points in different systems, and the reversibility of catastrophic events.

Videos for the various proposals will remain on the Idea Machine website for several weeks. Comments for each entry essentially serve as votes. 12 entries will be selected for virtual interviews. From those 12, up to four winning ideas will be picked.

Gordon Evans became WMUK's Content Director in 2019 after more than 20 years as an anchor, host and reporter. A 1990 graduate of Michigan State, he began work at WMUK in 1996.
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