College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

College of Education and Human Development

Creating STEM Instruction

June 26, 2019

By Greg Sullivan

College of Education and Human Development assistant professor Nancy Holincheck’s decision to shift her career and hone in on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education came in a way she wouldn’t have predicted.

A few years ago, her son William had joined a newly formed robotics program out of Centreville High School in Fairfax County. As a team mom who happened to have a physics background, Holincheck figured she might help out from the sidelines, if the kids needed her.

The former high school physics teacher wound up becoming a mentor for Centreville Robotics, which has now grown into a robust program that competes in international competitions. The robotics hobby became a passion that changed Holincheck’s own life, inspired research, and pushed her career in a cutting-edge direction.

"Working with the team has shown me really how important STEM education is and how it’s more than just science in one of the disciplines," Holincheck said. "I love science, and I loved teaching physics in high schools. But what these kids are doing really incorporates many different fields. It was the result of my work with robotics [that helped build] our new STEM program at George Mason."

Holincheck joined George Mason’s education faculty in 2013 initially in a broader role. Now, along with her duties as Advanced Studies in Teaching and Learning (ASTL) co-academic program coordinator, she will be leading the new master’s-level ASTL concentration in the Graduate School of Education focusing on STEM instruction that will begin offering classes in the fall 2019 semester.

The new STEM program is geared toward current teachers between grades pre-kindergarten through middle school. Holincheck said students can expect to spend 2-3 years to complete the flexible program, while still working full time as teachers.

Prospective students in Mason’s new STEM education concentration are encouraged to check with their employer about what tuition benefits may be available.

At Mason, all teachers receive a 15% discount on the in-state tuition rate. Meanwhile, out-of-state students are also eligible for significant tuition discounts to help defray cost.

"For a lot of our Pre-K through middle school teachers, they’re being called on already to integrate STEM in the classroom and not just do some science, do some math," Holincheck said. "I’ve always been passionate about science education at the elementary school level and about how we need to do better. I think STEM is a way to do that for our kids."

Don’t expect Holincheck to give up working with the local robotics team. Her son William is majoring in systems engineering and math at the University of Virginia, but Holincheck’s high-school daughters, Emma and Sophia, have followed the family tradition and are now with the robotics team, too.

Aside from her personal connections, Holincheck said working with schoolchildren outside of her day job keeps her connected to the community and also better able to understand the needs of teachers trying to work STEM education into their teaching.

Holincheck herself was a physics teacher at Chantilly High School, while she worked on and eventually completed a PhD in Education from Mason in 2012. Earlier in her career, she also acquired her master’s degree in applied and engineering physics from Mason.

While she said she’s happy to be involved with Centreville Robotics, much of the credit should go to students who have in many ways taken charge to create a culture of STEM in their community.

Holincheck said she hopes the new program at Mason will continue to help push that STEM culture out even more widely and be a positive influence for many communities and in the region.

"We should be thinking about how to bring engineering in at kindergarten or even preschool and getting students used to the concepts,” she said. “We’d love to see our teachers growing kids who are engaged in inquiry and who want to learn new things. Engineering isn’t easy, but it can be accessible with familiarity."