Leading Change in STEM Education at the White House

March 10, 2014

For Shai Butler, a Doctor of Law & Policy student at Northeastern University College of Professional Studies, an invitation to a high-level event at the White House on advancing STEM fields in education came at the perfect moment (STEM is an acronym referring to the education fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

Shai Butler (left) with David Johns, Executive Director, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

Butler was one of 60 attendees at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s workshop “Closing the Gap: Opportunities to Expand Minority Achievement and Participation in STEM.” Attendees were leading technical experts, representatives from minority professional societies, nonprofit organizations, and other key stakeholders who are working, like Butler, to help minorities excel in STEM studies and careers.Butler is currently working on her doctoral thesis developing a model that improves outcomes for economically disadvantaged students majoring in STEM fields in New York state by reducing debt, improving academic and career readiness and increasing employment rates. Attending the White House Champions of Change event was an opportunity for Butler to learn what others are doing to advance minority students in STEM fields, and to further her own research. As the Chief Diversity Officer for the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York, Butler’s professional experience and her doctoral research are complementary and inform one another. The Doctor of Law and Policy program encourages in-depth policy analysis to prepare its students to become policy makers and changers in their field of study – exactly what Butler has set out to do.

By taking advantage of a strong professional network, one of the benefits of studying in a cohort-based doctoral program, Butler reported that she was able to connect to the White House event’s Program Director through a colleague in her doctoral program. Networking opportunities at the conference inspired her to consider new horizons in her doctoral research.

While at the event, Butler was able to meet with executives from Boeing about their partnerships with education to advance STEM, a key discussion given that her research model is built around public and private partnerships.   Butler was also able to forge a future partnership with the Black Data Professional Associates as the group is looking to expand its association and relationships in New York.  

Butler also had the opportunity to meet with Anne Artz, an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow who works in the office of Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY). Artz, an experienced teacher in the San Diego public school system, is one of more than 30 distinguished fellows selected annually from around the nation who serve in a Federal agency or in a U.S. Congressional office to represent and promote STEM education. Artz agreed to be a part of Butler’s research and according to Butler, “brought a completely different lens and perspective to my work.”

“My one big takeaway from this day was that being able to engage and just sit with all these leaders who are trying to advance STEM inclusion proved to me that I can work with a real, tangible approach that will be successful,” Butler said.  

Butler is working toward defending her thesis this June.