Apr 14th, 2014 @ 11:57 am | Author: Dr. Steve Shirley
Earlier this month in Bismarck, I attended the official launch and first-ever statewide Summit of the North Dakota STEM Network. As you may know, STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Valley City State University has been at the forefront of STEM Education initiatives in North Dakota, including serving as home to the Great Plains STEM Education Center that was established at VCSU four years ago. The creation of a statewide STEM Network is an outgrowth of many of the early conversations from the time VCSU’s STEM Center was being established.

According to its website at www.ndstem.org, “The ND STEM Network aims to connect and increase cooperation among all North Dakota stakeholders in order to provide opportunities for students to be creative and innovative and gain 21st century skills through increased engagement in project-based learning driven by the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. These skills will allow more North Dakotans to graduate, gain additional skills and become part of a productive and competitive workforce in North Dakota. We believe this approach to education needs to become our vision for North Dakota students and is the responsibility, not only of educational institutions at all levels, but is the responsibility of all North Dakota citizens, businesses, and communities.”

In showing support for STEM Education, the 63rd North Dakota Legislative Assembly appropriated $300,000 in 2013 to assist in the development of this new Network. The STEM Network Summit in Bismarck featured individuals from many relevant constituencies throughout North Dakota: K-12, higher education, the private sector and industry representatives, Career and Technical Education, the Department of Public Instruction, the Department of Commerce, and other interested groups. Lieutenant Governor Drew Wrigley and Interim Chancellor of the ND University System Larry Skogen attended the opening day of the Summit to set the tone and provide comments. Throughout the conference there was regular discussion focused on the integration of STEM and the Arts, also known as STEAM, the recognition that the cognitive processes by our artists and engineers are not all that different—an important attribute of the STEAM movement. It was inspiring to see so many people from all corners of the state working together to launch this new learning Network. The participation and interest certainly highlights the growing role of STEM Education in North Dakota.

VCSU’s Great Plains STEM Education Center is guided by the leadership of Executive Director Dr. David DeMuth who joined VCSU in 2012. Prior to David’s arrival, the Center founder and leader was Dr. Donald Mugan. Many of you may remember Don—he taught at VCSU for four decades from the early 1970s until his retirement in 2012. The visionary Don Mugan was the brainchild behind the idea and creation that ultimately led to the Great Plains STEM Education Center at VCSU. Unfortunately, Don succumbed to a battle with ALS earlier this month. It was Don’s vision, leadership, energy, commitment, passion, and dedication that were directly attributable to the foundational groundwork that led to the creation of the STEM Network. Don positively impacted the lives of so many students at VCSU during his 40 years on campus. He had a national impact and was an instrumental leader in Technology Education. Simply put, Don was ahead of his time—he was doing STEM Education before there was such a phrase as STEM Education. It was his life’s work and he made an indelible and lasting mark on the field of education. In 2010 Don was presented with the Pathfinder Award by Senator Dorgan on behalf of the Red River Valley Research Corridor. The Pathfinder Award recognizes exceptional achievement in developing and deploying technologies, products, processes or services in the marketplace that have a significant effect on the way business and society operates.

It is unfortunate that Don passed away at the time of the first statewide STEM Summit, but it is also quite fitting as Don’s sprit, impact, and contributions were felt by all in attendance. The creation of the North Dakota STEM Network is a great tribute to a wonderfully thoughtful, forward-thinking, and proactive member of the VCSU family who has left such a meaningful legacy at this campus, North Dakota, and beyond.