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Professor proves STEM education is women's work

Professor of Mathematic Sciences Yvonne Ng (center) co-teaches Makin and Breakin: Engineering in Your World with Associate Dean of Education Lori Maxfield.
Professor of Mathematic Sciences Yvonne Ng (center) co-teaches Makin and Breakin: Engineering in Your World with Associate Dean of Education Lori Maxfield.
St. Kates Photo Bureau.

Yvonne Ng joined the St. Catherine University faculty in 2000. The professor of mathematical sciences was driven to St. Kate’s, founded as a women’s college in 1905, by the belief that “women are naturally interested in engineering” because of its practical application to complex problems.

“I needed to go where the women are,” she says. “I was interested in teaching and decided I can’t go back to the same environment I came from.”

Armed with a mechanical and aerospace engineering degree from Princeton, a master's in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota, internships at NASA and Honeywell as well as prestigious scholarly awards and industry experience, Ng has been a mover and shaker at St. Kate’s.

In addition to teaching, she advises and mentors young women in computer science and engineering as faculty coordinator of the St. Kate's Center for Women, Science and Technology. And she regularly organizes networking events, such as the dessert-and-story-swapping "Dessert and Destiny" sessions, with women professionals at Twin Cities engineering and scientific companies.

A campus champion for STEM
“Makin’ and Breakin’: Engineering in Your World” is one of the courses that Ng teaches. She does it in partnership with St. Kate’s Associate Dean of Education Lori Maxfield. Both professors say they enjoy watching students transform from fearful science, techonology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) neophytes to “get her done” engineers in just a few months.

Makin’ and Breakin’ is one of the three courses in St. Kate's STEM certificate. All elementary education majors are required to complete the certificate to graduate. Ng is a big proponent of this unique requirement — as she is of the five-course STEM minor on campus, which is open to all St. Kate’s undergraduate students and is composed of courses from several departments.

By taking the STEM minor, English majors learn that STEM courses can help them pursue technical writing. Philosophy majors learn that STEM acumen can influence policy-making and design students learn how STEM and art can combine to create new products or interactive sets at museums and theaters.

Ng, who has played a key role in St. Kate’s recent launch of the National Center for STEM Elementary Education, passion, has also collaborated with campus colleagues to create bridging programs that help students relearn the mathematics they’ve been taught to apply to college-level coursework.

“They don’t need remedial work. They just need to remember and practice what they know,” says the enthusiastic but ever-patient Ng.

She used her natural talent for systems organization to help colleagues, Professor Sharon Doherty and Administrator Deb Miner, create the Assistantship Mentoring Program at St. Kate's. The program pairs students in their junior or senior year with faculty of staff mentors who guide them in achieving a specific project outcome.

Taking her talents far and wide
Ng's contributions to women and girls reach far beyond the gates of St. Catherine University.

A research project, “Robot Building at St. Kate’s: Transforming Computer and Engineering Education for Women and Girls” with STEM instructor Sherri Kreuser grew into a collaboration with the Girl Scouts of the Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys that resulted in a new curriculum at the University. “ME Robots” has also been used by the Minnesota Department of Education.

Ng organizes St. Kate's annual outreach event “Girls Science Saturday,” designed to get fourth- to eighth-grade girls excited about science. The popular event includes specially designed workshops for parents and other key adults in girls’ lives. She serves as an advisor for the National Science Foundation Scholars Program, which provides nearly half million dollars in financial aid and career support to students majoring in biology, chemistry, math, computer science, physics and engineering.

She also sits on the board of the hands-on engineering museum, The Works. She helped the organization launch the state's first conference on integrating engineering into the elementary classroom. Held in February 2009 at St. Kate’s, the conference attracted more than 200 teachers, administrators, engineering professionals and civic leaders from all over the state and has become an annual event.

For Ng, the field of engineering is the last frontier for women's education.

“In the past, it was an either/or proposition,” said Ng, with career professionals being forced to choose between success (in industry/academia) or children/family. “It has to become an ‘engineering and’.”

Ng shares her thoughts on teaching and engineering on her blog, "An Engineer's Playground."

Sep. 30, 2010 by Julie Michener

See also: , Education, Faculty, Leadership, , STEM, Students