After years of integrating STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — into its curriculum, the McIntire School of Commerce learned early this month that three of their degree programs — the B.S. in Commerce, M.S. in Commerce and M.S. in the Management of Information Technology — have been designated in the second week of January as official STEM degrees by the Department of Homeland Security. The designation offers new opportunities for international students who wish to work in the United States after graduation.
Starting in 2011, McIntire has made conscious decisions to build quantitative business analytics into their degree programs, even hiring new professors on the basis of their ability to integrate STEM into their classes. These decisions were a result of corporate sponsors hiring students with increasingly quantitative backgrounds. McIntire, which maintains consistent contact with corporate sponsors, decided to include more quantitative components in their curriculum.
Now, James Maxham, McIntire associate dean for graduate programs, and William Stamps Farish entrepreneurial research professor, believes that part of the strength of McIntire’s curriculum lies in its STEM focus.
“We have a great history of placing students in jobs, especially business analytics,” Maxham said. “But since we have started pushing into these [STEM] fields in 2011, we have seen a greater increase in the number of students our corporate sponsors are hiring.”
McIntire’s history of STEM integration made Maxham, who spearheaded the official designation process, realize that one part of his job was already done for him. According to Maxham, the curricula of the designated programs were already sufficiently based in STEM topics that they did not need to be altered before submitting the STEM designation proposal.
“I looked at what it takes to have a STEM designated program and realized we have had this [in our curriculum] all along,” he said.
The Department of Homeland Security, in accordance with Department of Education “STEM” standards, keeps a detailed list of programs that qualify as “STEM designated” — such as business statistics, mathematics and computer science.
Especially since 2011, McIntire has been integrating elements of STEM — variations of computer programming, statistical analysis, calculus and more — into nearly all of its classes.
Commerce graduate student Michael Bateman chose the McIntire program for its STEM experience.
“My undergraduate degree was liberal arts oriented,” Bateman said. “That's part of the reason I wanted to do the M.S. in Commerce, because I wanted that STEM background.”
Carl Zeithaml, McIntire dean and F.S. Cornell professor of free enterprise, echoes Maxham’s realization about McIntire and STEM.
“While people don’t necessarily think of business as ‘STEM,’ we didn’t have to change a thing in our curriculum to become STEM certified,” Zeithaml said.
However, other parts of the STEM certification process proved not to be so straightforward.
“We went through a lengthy process of tying our programs to certain University standards to make sure they were STEM oriented,” Zeithaml said. “We submitted [our coursework] through the University. It was a challenging process.”
Maxham explained that there were many levels of approval McIntire had to obtain before its programs could be officially designated as “STEM” degrees.
The process was overseen by both the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia and by the University provost’s office. McIntire developed proposals based on the SCHEV guidelines, which involved an audit of its programs and a final submission to the provost and SCHEV.
But with the arduous approval process has come a potentially positive change in job prospects for McIntire graduates, especially international students who wish to stay in the U.S. after they graduate.
Students who graduate from an official STEM designated degree program are eligible to apply for an extra 24 months to their optional practical training extension, an immigration stipulation that already guarantees 12 months of work experience in the U.S. for international college graduates.
Maxham said having an official STEM degree can even help international students obtain an H-1B visa, which allows U.S. employers to hire international workers in certain — often high demand — fields like STEM.
“[There were] over 1,000 hits on WeChat in China when the article dropped,” Zeithaml said. “At the undergraduate level, I hope that it helps us help the University attract the best international students.”