A Panel Discussion Recap and Future Outlook From INFORMS Education Outreach Committee (EOC) K-12

Zihan Zhang
Georgia Institute of Technology

In the evolving landscape of K-12 education, the panel discussion held at the 2023 INFORMS Annual Meeting, featuring esteemed experts Pascal Van Hentenryck, Afrooz Jalilzadeh, and Mary Elena Ogidigben, sheds light on innovative strategies, challenges, and opportunities to enhance access and engagement in education. Neil Desnoyers, who co-chairs the INFORMS EOC K-12 alongside Zihan Zhang, also brings valuable experience and insights to the conversation. Together, they provide a comprehensive overview of current practices and future directions in K-12 education, with a particular focus on STEM and Operations Research (OR).

Improve Access to Education Resources

Pascal highlighted the importance of leveling the playing field by offering summer camps at three different levels, with a specific focus on high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including those from Historically Black and Hispanic high schools. His approach also involves empowering teachers with the necessary tools to continue the learning experience in the classroom.

Mary emphasized the need to bridge the gap with rural schools, proposing lunch sessions as a viable solution to logistical issues related to after-school activities. As an INFORMS DEI ambassador, she has been instrumental in creating resources and guides to extend the reach of educational programs to universities.

Afrooz, through her involvement in teaching classes and serving as an INFORMS DEI ambassador, is forging connections with local high schools to introduce students to AI and hosting tours at the University of Arizona to expose them to a wide range of STEM and OR topics. Her primary focus is on first-generation college students, ensuring they have the resources and knowledge needed to pursue higher education.

Neil, with his direct involvement in his local school district and math club, echoed the importance of providing safe spaces for students to develop critical thinking skills. He underlined the essential role of teacher support in maintaining these initiatives. Furthermore, he highlighted the potential of leveraging innovations and additional funding introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic to address education disparities.

Virtual Design

The shift to a virtual or hybrid education was a recurring theme.

Pascal emphasized the advantages of a hybrid format. Through combining online material with in-person projects, it provides flexibility and enhances student engagement.

Mary highlighted the benefits of virtual workshops in navigating bureaucratic challenges and engaging students throughout virtual presentations. She shared these practices in a comprehensive guide.

Afrooz shared her experiences with virtual lectures, which allowed students to engage with material at their own pace and come to class prepared with questions, enriching the in-person experience.

Neil’s experience during the pandemic also underscored the value of virtual and hybrid learning models. He noted how these models facilitated continuous learning during uncertain times, and how they could be utilized post-pandemic to maintain inclusivity and accessibility. 

Challenges & Opportunities 

Younger generation’s familiarity with technology imposes unique challenges yet creates exciting opportunities. 

Pascal noted the challenge of capturing the interest of high school students, emphasizing the need for unique and less accessible projects to excite them about technology.

Mary spoke of the significant knowledge gap between high school students and Ph.D. students, underscoring the necessity of making workshops accessible and approachable for all.

Afrooz shared her perspective as an international educator, highlighting the importance of understanding the diversity in students’ prior knowledge and experiences, and the need to stay updated on technology used in classrooms.

Neil added that his experience working with diverse student populations revealed the importance of tailored approaches to engage students from varying backgrounds.

The panel discussion with Pascal, Afrooz, Mary, and the insights provided by Neil offered a comprehensive overview of the current state of K-12 education, particularly in STEM and OR fields. Their strategies and experiences emphasize the importance of accessibility, the potential of virtual learning, and the necessity of adapting to the unique challenges presented by different demographics and technological familiarities. Together, they set the stage for future innovations and continued efforts to ensure that quality education is within reach for every student, regardless of their background or location.

Acknowledgments: We would like to thank Haokun Du for taking time to review this article and thank Kara Combs for taking notes for the panel session.