Even as a little girl, Dr. Cheryl Schrader was hyper curious, a tinkerer, plugging this into that and creating stuff that, in its way, functioned.
That precocious child morphed into a high school student enrolling in math and science courses that precisely primed her for college study and eventually a career in her chosen field, engineering.
To be sure, her early curiosity provided an academic advantage. It also imbued the kind of self-confidence not always evident among students arriving at Boise State University from, say, a rural Idaho high school with few, if any, properly credentialed math and science teachers. Schrader, Boise State’s associate vice president for strategic research initiatives, has singularly aimed to show students of that ilk that science, technology, engineering and math — the STEM sector — are within their reach.
“What we’ve done is focus on the underprepared students, the students who don’t come to us calculus-ready and didn’t decide in fourth grade that this was what they were going to do in life,” said Schrader, who on April 2 trades her Boise State post to become Missouri University of Science and Technology’s chancellor, the first woman to helm that campus.
Once fully on board in Missouri, she said she’ll start out listening, observing and trying to show the campus that she’s intent on highlighting its attributes and contributions to the local community.
“My overarching vision for Missouri University of Science and Technology,” Schrader said, “is three-fold: To create and inspire a culture of innovation. To foster diversity in a global context. And to chart a bold plan advancing Missouri and the nation.”
Her approach at Boise State has resulted in a 49 percent increase, since 2008, in the number of minorities enrolling in STEM studies and a 92 percent increase in the number of students from underrepresented groups earning STEM degrees, according to the university’s data. With Schrader helping to lead the way, Boise State undergraduates have, where needed, been remediated in math and science. Starting in the freshman year, they’re involved in research projects usually reserved for people in graduate school. They’re paired with professional mentors and slotted for STEM internships. They take part in the Idaho Science and Aerospace Scholars project, the first such National Aeronautics and Space Administration collaborative housed outside of a NASA installation.
“We don’t worry too much whether students coming to Boise State have been in accelerated academic programs during high school,” Schrader said. “What we’re clear about is that there are many pathways to rewarding STEM careers. And that’s important to remember. Just because students come from smaller towns, where they may not have had the opportunity to take advanced classes, doesn’t make them any less capable.”
That ethos also propelled Schrader in her prior posts, including as a professor and, later, an associate dean at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where a goodly share of the students were Hispanic and often the first in their families to go to college. Some of her initiatives in Idaho — 89 percent of the state’s residents are White, though the fast-growing Hispanic population hovers at 11 percent — replicated projects she’d created in Texas.
That can-do philosophy also has undergirded efforts by Schrader, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Valparaiso University, to link academic study with real-world STEM endeavors. Schrader, who has consulted for defense contractors and systems researchers, has been honored by the White House and such Fortune 500 companies as Hewlett-Packard. In Idaho, she has served on the boards of directors of the Discovery Center of Idaho and Boise Valley Economic Partnership. She’s advised venture capitalists in the technology sphere.
“She has been instrumental in establishing connections and collaborations with community, government and industry partners that have allowed Boise State to grow and prosper even with reductions in state funding,” said Dr. Robert Kustra, Boise State’s president. “Cheryl’s continued contributions to national dialogue are both noteworthy and needed, and I am confident she will serve Missouri well.”