21st Century STEM

21st Century Stem

Dominican has a long tradition of excellence in preparing students for college and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. Spanning decades, alumni can easily recall lessons and experiences from legendary STEM teachers, such as Darwin Kaestner, Bill Crowley, and Patricia Ash. These talented teachers challenged and pushed our students to think about our world and expand their potential.

Dominican’s current faculty leaders in math, science and technology continue the tradition of academic excellence by exploring new ways for our students to experience college-level curriculum, engage with university students and professors, and offer opportunities to explore their future careers.

Dominican’s commitment to excellence in STEM spans back to the founder of the Sinsinawa Dominicans, Father Samuel Mazzuchelli. He and the Sinsinawa Dominicans embraced science, engineering, and technology as far back as the 1830-40s.

Father Samuel designed and built churches in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois, and required strong science education in the schools founded by the Sinsinawa Dominicans. He even brought scientific equipment, including a modern telescope from Europe, when he settled in the American frontier. Our outstanding teachers have continued this tradition of a strong science and math education by
pushing our students to excel.

“We want students to learn the necessary concepts and skills in their field of interest while they are at Dominican so when they start college they already have that base knowledge,” Dominican math teacher Megan Renner said.

Dominican High School math teacher Megan Renner dissects a word problem during her AP Calculus BC Class.

Renner has taught at Dominican for 14 years and is the math department chair. Over the years, she has seen a growing interest in AP (Advanced Placement) math courses.

“Initially it was as little as one to four students in a class, now we are getting full class sizes,” Renner said. “Students are more interested in STEM-related careers, including medicine, engineering, nursing, and business. They know they need a strong background in math.”

Over the past five years, Dominican’s STEM faculty has committed to expanding the advanced curriculum and learning experiences of our students. College-level courses in science, technology, and math all include Advanced Placement or concurrent enrollment classes.

The past two years recorded all-time high student enrollments in AP Chemistry, Biology, Statistics, Calculus AB and Calculus BC courses. In 2017, Dominican students took 27 Advanced Placement exams in STEM areas. In 2022, Dominican more than doubled that total with over 65 AP STEM exams. Those exams resulted in a record number of high scores, earning Dominican students college credits. Among the Class of 2022, 79% of students graduated with college credits through
Advanced Placement or concurrent enrollment courses.

“We want students to be successful and also challenged, that’s the sweet spot,” Renner said. “You can help them understand what classes they need to take in college for their career before they graduate.”

Chemistry students perform a flame testing experiment.

According to Renner, knowing students on a personal level is what makes Dominican’s STEM curriculum unique.

“By the time they are taking AP courses, we’ve already had them in a class,” Renner said. “Students know us, and I think that is a big deal. They are comfortable asking questions and asking for help. If I know I have a lot of kids going into a certain field, I can relate lectures and assignments a little bit more toward that career. If I see a student struggling, I can take that student aside because I know what their goal is.”

Our commitment to university-level experiences goes beyond just curriculum and AP exams; Dominican teachers have pursued partnerships with area colleges. Marquette University’s Physician Assistant program sends professors and graduate students to Dominican’s Anatomy and Physiology course to conduct college-level lab experiences with our students. Our Biomedical Careers Club visited UW-Milwaukee’s College of Health Sciences. Our faculty leadership also extends to extracurricular experiences where students can push their science and technology skills even further.

“Being able to take what you have learned and apply it is important,” Paul Firsan ’22 said. “It’s one thing to sit in a classroom, it’s another to put it to use in the real world.”

Paul Firsan '22 looks at cells through a microscope. Paul is studying Electrical Engineering at UW-Madison this fall.

Ever since Firsan was in middle school, he knew he wanted to be an engineer. He would design Lego sets without the instructions because “the real fun is letting your imagination take over.”

“I always liked the idea that engineers were able to create things that came to their minds and I want  to do that,” shared Firsan, who will study Electrical Engineering this fall at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, one of the top engineering institutions in the country.

For Firsan, the field he is entering requires the ability to apply the principles of science and mathematics to solve problems. As a sophomore, Firsan joined Dominican’s stage crew, getting hands-on experience in technical theater. 

“I really enjoyed stage crew,” Firsan said. “In class, you do word problems and experiments that show you acceleration, position, velocity and how all of it works together. In stage crew, you figure out how to design something in real time. You need to come up with a unique solution to get something to work. There is a lot of variety in it, just like there is a lot of variety in engineering.”

Stage crew was not only a skill-developer for Firsan, but he also saw his confidence and leadership grow through the experience. He organized and taught other members how to run the lights, do wiring, and build set designs. Firsan learned time management and problem solving.

“This experience challenged me. It’s nice to get to high school and be able to challenge yourself and be prepared for the college workload,” Firsan shared. “Dominican does a good job of providing opportunities at each level and encourages everyone to follow their interests.”

In 2019, Dominican sought out students interested in getting involved in science competitions to launch a new robotics club. The team, known as the TermiKnightors, provided students interested in STEM an opportunity to build a robot and compete against other schools. This past spring, the TermiKnightors won two awards at the regional level and advanced to the FIRST Robotics World Championships in Houston. As part of the Knight Vision 2.0 Capital Campaign, a brand-new
Robotics Center was built on the third floor of the school.

“Dominican’s unique small-school community sets the learning experience apart from other high schools. Our teachers have students in class multiple times over their fours years which provides an awesome opportunity for teachers to mentor students,” Principal Edward Foy said. “Those close relationships allow our teachers to push students to excel, talk about differences between college majors and careers, and be a sounding board for students’ ideas and problems. At Dominican, this type of mentorship isn’t the exception, it’s the norm.”

The TermiKnightors, Dominican's robotics team, competed at the FIRST Robotics World Championships in April.

Dominican is committed to expanding partnerships with top Catholic universities to expand the reach of STEM education. Three years ago, teachers from the Science and Religious Studies departments attended a summer internship program at the University of Notre Dame to develop course work that explores the intersection of faith and science. Ms. Isabel Utschig, the leader of that faculty team and our AP Biology teacher, has taught Faith and Science ever since, helping students to understand their Catholic faith while developing as future STEM leaders. Utschig and her team were selected by Notre Dame to attended a global seminar of secondary teachers of faith and science in Ireland this summer.

“Our teachers are constantly pushing the limits of what a STEM experience can be in high school. From partnering with the top college programs to forming mentorship relationships with students, our faculty understands what it takes to develop ethical, curious, and skilled STEM leaders,” Foy said. “Our students are prepared to step onto a college campus and excel. They have the foundation to become leaders as physicians, architects, engineers or whatever else they dream of.”

The pursuit of college-level STEM courses, partnered with real world experiences and hands-on extracurriculars provides Dominican students with the 21st century skills they need to be tomorrow’s leaders. The talent and dedication of our STEM faculty is paying dividends and the best evidence is the amazing work that our young alumni are doing on college campuses. The combination of a talented and dedicated team of STEM teachers and a commitment to evolving courses and curriculum to meet the modern needs of STEM majors and careers has resulted in a dynamic learning experience for our students.

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