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Lessons From Inspirational Women In STEM: “Here Are 5 Things That Should Be Done To Improve The United States Education System”, with Dr. Lauren Anne St. John

An Interview With Penny Bauder


I would also work to improve compensation and training for college faculty to address the evolving economic and employment landscape. Particularly, I would like to better utilize available technologies among the faculty to enhance student achievement.

I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Lauren Anne St. John. Lauren is a Doctor of Nursing Practice and Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner with a strong background in nursing informatics. She has earned a Teaching in Nursing and Health Professions certificate from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and is a Master Certified Health Coach through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute. Lauren currently serves as Associate Chair for Clinical Education at University of Texas at Arlington, a position created out of a need for scalable clinical management processes for the graduate nursing programs. She is a known expert in creating unique and effective solutions for clinical placement and oversees a highly skilled clinical coordination team while aligning several clinical programs at UTA under a single clinical software system. Lauren’s research interests include the optimization of clinical education processes for improved student learning outcomes. The successful implementation of integrated clinical placement solutions allows both the generation and analysis of cutting-edge data to inform best practices in teaching and preceptorship.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?

My mom is a nurse and my dad has an incredible work ethic and the most exemplary character of anyone I have ever known. I was shown early in life through their example what it means to be a person of integrity and commitment and to value meaningful relationships. Growing up, I learned discipline through the sport of baton twirling and was skilled at a young age, teaching high school age students when I was 9 years old. I went on to become a national and world champion baton twirler and have a resiliency and determination that has only continued to grow through life’s ups and downs.

In my seven years as a family nurse practitioner, I have worked in several states and clinical practice areas and have seen firsthand the necessity of quality workplace learning within our country’s educational system. Ultimately, when presented with opportunities that are outside of my comfort zone, I have a natural tendency to lean in rather than shy away, which has allowed me to take on new challenges and be mentored along the way by some of the most knowledgeable and innovative leaders in my field.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Of course! One of the most interesting stories in my career also happens to be one of the first stories of my career. As a graduate advanced practice nursing student, I took a role as a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. The teaching assistant role was in the nursing informatics department. On the first day of class, I intended to sit in the back of the room observing the teacher and getting a feel for the course like the students when suddenly, the professor received a phone call about an urgent family matter. Within a few minutes I was being enlisted by the professor to kick-off the first day of his nursing informatics course with his notes to guide me. Even though it was completely unexpected, I certainly wanted to do what I could to help in this situation. The students were understanding and thank goodness the professor took excellent notes — he even scripted out the jokes he wanted to share that day — and ultimately, I had the honor of standing in his place and spontaneously leading the class with pre-written humor and a whole lot of respect for faculty. This experience was my first true glimpse into the potential of teaching as a career path.

Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I began my first major procurement without notifying the department of procurement. And I learned really quickly that procurement is not to be done retroactively — and that staff in the procurement department can be very patient.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’ve had the exciting opportunity to lead an innovative information technology deployment at University of Texas at Arlington to support our graduate nursing students. For those outside of Nursing, clinical placement is the process where universities connect students with the workplace in order to complete required hands-on training hours necessary to earn their degree. Nursing educators have historically had to manually facilitate hundreds to thousands of student placements annually at hospitals, medical offices and other care facilities, a process that was often time consuming and error prone.

In 2017, UTA integrated InPlace Software across its graduate nursing programs to modernize and help streamline placement management in preparation for program growth. The software helps our team of educators improve student clinical evaluations, communications and graduate outcomes through a highly configurable program that serves as a hub for students throughout their degree program.

Not only has this technology adoption allowed me to evolve as an advanced practice nursing educator, but also to become an expert/leader on the diffusion of innovations in higher education, facilitating an enterprise-wide technology adoption among students, faculty and staff and an understanding of stages in the innovation-decision process while executing this transition.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority in the education field?

I teach at one of the nation’s largest and most diverse institutions of higher education. We attract a wide range of students from across the socio-economic, racial and ethnic spectrum. We have students who are graduates of elite private schools, topflight suburban public school systems, urban districts, struggling big city schools and rural districts. In addition, we have a large number of international students as well as first-generation college, non-traditional and working students. The exposure to this breathtaking diversity coupled with my substantial time as a faculty member and prior experience as a clinical director at a for-profit university makes it possible for me to speak authoritatively about education in the United States.

As Associate Chair for Clinical Education at University of Texas, Arlington, I’ve had the opportunity to become a leader in developing and managing scalable clinical management processes. The clinical placement process had been holding back the potential for growth of the UTA nursing program until we implemented information technology solutions. In the last three years, UTA has increased our clinical enrollment and InPlace software has allowed our graduate placement staff to proactively and successfully place and clear our students for clinical. This result is exciting not just for nursing education programs or UTA, but for universities worldwide that are seeking to advance student services and academic programs with strategic software and technology deployments.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?

This is a tough question to answer because the education system in the U.S. is so vast and so varied at all levels. We have the largest offerings of higher educational institutions in the world. We also have the world’s most egalitarian higher education system. We have one of the world’s oldest, most extensive and most accessible public education systems, and our public education system continues to evolve, with many districts experimenting with early college programs and some states pushing for school choice. It’s hard to speak of our education in the United States as a monolith. But if I were to lump it into a “system,” I would give it relatively high passing grade with several areas for improvement, particularly equity.

Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?

Yes, certainly. The proliferation of quality online education options is one area going well. As online programs are being integrated in traditional and not-for-profit universities and demonstrating rigor through strong student outcomes while growing enrollment, long-held beliefs in academia are being challenged. This ultimately encourages more innovation and inquiry into how to harness technology to advance the future of higher education.

There are also more technologies available to provide holistic student support, which helps streamline the student experience, increase success, and reduce attrition. Universities can continue to hone the technology adoption process, hiring technology experts to support university leaders and professors.

We are seeing the student population become increasingly diverse, and programs are embracing non-traditional students. With shifting demographics, the United States is more diverse than it has ever been, and continued focus on creating a more diverse teaching staff that looks like the new America will foster inclusive learning environments.

The job market and employers themselves are continuing to shape higher education, which will help students more easily translate their degrees into meaningful work opportunities. It is important as well that university faculty continue to have the freedom to carry out research that is independent and devoid of any unnecessary external influences.

And there are more financial aid resources and educational resources than ever, including progressive approaches like free Community College (in California and Tennessee) that continues to empower underserved and at-risk populations to advance their education.

Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US educational system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?

Teacher pay — this past academic year, we saw teachers strike in several parts of the country, including Oklahoma, West Virginia and Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest city. Most of the strikes revolved around pay. I read a story in the Washington Post about a striking teacher in Oklahoma who worked seven side jobs just to make ends meet. We will not be able to recruit our best and brightest to the teaching profession if we don’t address teacher compensation.

Evaluations are another key area to be prioritized for improvement. In recent years, we have seen an increased emphasis on treating students like “customers.” This is particularly so at the university level. It makes professors beholden to students, forcing them to walk a fine line between adhering to high standards and striving to keep their jobs. While universities ought to continue to have students evaluate their teachers, its current weight in determining tenure, promotion and other markers of performance is problematic.

Funding — there are so many wide disparities in the funding of our school districts and this manifests itself in test scores and student performance at the college level. Around the country, many school districts struggle to get bonds passed. We are an aging society. Many voters don’t have children in the schools and vote against the bonds out of perceived lack of self-interest. This failure to see the big picture is detrimental to their communities and to all of us.

Work experience in higher education — there is a lot of research and some anecdotal findings that suggest work experience leads to a more positive view of the learning experience, higher employment rates and possibly to higher incomes. As we continue to enhance comprehensive support services, including technologies that can make navigating and succeeding in college more streamlined and efficient for both students and universities, we can reduce cost and improve educational outcomes relative to workplace learning or clinical and practicum experiences.

I think transparency can also be an area prioritized for improvement. Students need credible, reliable information about academic rankings, earning potential, reputation and accountability. The technology is available to help correlate clinical placement characteristics and student success metrics for example.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

I believe the US needs to make STEM education more of an aspirational goal. One suggestion for increasing this engagement is to come up with a strategy to bridge the digital divide that exists among many socio-economic groups. Another suggestion is to team up with corporations, libraries, colleges and educational organizations to propagate the STEM message to schools, community organizations, youth groups and perhaps even houses of worship. It may also be helpful to re-tool the way we teach math and science at the K-12 level. I think we should come up with ways to make math and science less daunting to elementary school children.

Can you articulate to our readers why it’s so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?

The data shows that girls are just as capable of excelling in STEM subjects as boys. Currently, women attend college in much greater numbers than men. On some campuses, women make up as much as 65 percent of the student body. By not tapping into this vast trove of potential talent, the United States risks not only overlooking more than half its population but losing its competitiveness in technology and business.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

The US is making strides in overcoming the stereotypes and stigmas that hinder girls from taking an interest in STEM subjects, but there are still many opportunities to reinforce this as a culture and at home with our families and children. Introducing books, cartoons, and play figures that dispel stereotypes and show women in the role of scientist, mathematician, and engineer at an early age will continue to evolve cultural norms. We can also increase engagement by encouraging a growth mindset — success is about practice, not innate ability. Building resilience will help girls conquer those embedded beliefs that they “just aren’t good at math.” I would also encourage participation in summer and after-school programs to increase exposure and familiarity for confidence with these subjects.

As an education professional, where do you stand in the debate whether there should be a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) or on STEAM (STEM plus the arts like humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media)? Can you explain why you feel the way you do?

STEM subjects are extremely important to our competitiveness and future as a nation. But as we produce STEM graduates, we want to be certain that these new generation of nuclear physicists, software engineers and rocket scientists are thoughtful, well-informed people who can not only think critically but are well-rounded. The arts and humanities must be a part of the education of each and every student — not just those who aspire to be writers, actors, dancers or conductors.

If you had the power to influence of change the entire US educational infrastructure, what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Overall, I would implement strategies to improve student preparedness for college, so coursework isn’t focused on remediation and universities aren’t lowering standards on admission and throughout the program durations.

Along similar lines, I would like to enhance career readiness focus in higher education by rethinking undergraduate curriculum. Employers see many newly-hired graduates as deficient in basic skills such as writing, problem-solving, and critical thinking.

I would increase funding, particularly for public universities and community colleges.

I would emphasize continuation of research, utilizing available technologies to better track student experience and academic performance. Specifically, I would focus on identifying indicators of post-graduate success.

I would also work to improve compensation and training for college faculty to address the evolving economic and employment landscape. Particularly, I would like to better utilize available technologies among the faculty to enhance student achievement.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is, “Don’t find fault, find a remedy” by visionary Henry Ford. As an advanced nursing educator tasked with building and maintaining quality online nursing programs to support more students, I run into a lot of resistance across academia. Many in higher education are resistant to try new approaches because they are quick to default to all the reasons why something won’t work. They are unwilling or afraid to upend tradition and look at the current higher education landscape with an innovation mindset.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I have a deep respect and admiration for bestselling author and speaker Lysa TerKeurst, President of Proverbs 31 Ministries, and would love to have the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with her at some point in my life. She has a way of interweaving science, faith, personal growth and total personal vulnerability in her writing to address some of life’s most difficult challenges and help lift others up. In my work as a Nurse Practitioner and a nursing educator, I’ve had the opportunity to study the topics of resiliency, trauma and the strength of the human spirit, and I think Lysa masterfully embodies these aspects of the human condition through her sometimes-painful personal disclosures and thoughtful evaluations.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on LinkedIn for career-oriented conversation and Instagram @laurenannekarl for a more personal connection.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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