NSF Grant Targets Shortage of Math-Science Grads
$2.5 Million Awarded to Ramp Up Numbers atUT Dallas and Nearby Colleges
Nov. 19, 2009
Responding to a national shortage, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded UT Dallas, Collin College and Richland College nearly $2.5 million to graduate more students with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees.
The grant, named the STEM Talent Expansion Program (STEP), attempts to reverse the trend of decreases in science and math degrees awarded in the U.S. in recent decades.
According to the National Academy of Sciences report Rising Above the Gathering Storm (2007), “the proportion of bachelor’s degrees in physics to total degrees awarded was twice as high the year before Sputnik , deemed a time of dangerous educational neglect, as in 2004.” The report emphasized the importance of increasing the number of students with STEM bachelor’s degrees for the U.S. economy and global competitiveness.
Through a mix of course alignments, scholarships and coordinated academic advising, the academic institutions will create a pipeline whereby students interested in mathematics or the sciences can begin their educations at community colleges and successfully complete their degree as part of UT Dallas’ rigorous programs.
For students, the grant will provide funding for scholarships, summer research internships and student organizations related to STEM majors. Faculty members will receive funding to develop new teaching strategies.
Discussing the nature of the activities for which grant monies will be expended, Dave Galley, director of engineering at Collin College, said, “Our belief is through the use of robotics and sensor technology curriculum developed under the NSF Grant, the field of engineering can come alive for our students. Today’s students need to become excited about the endless possibilities that a career in engineering and science can offer them.”
A comprehensive program will make the transition from community college to the University as easy as possible. For example, academic advisers at the community colleges will receive materials that recommend a balanced sequence of coursework. Faculty members from all the schools will align their syllabi, textbooks and lab work.
“The idea is to help each STEM major come to UT Dallas fully prepared for a rigorous and fulfilling completion of a bachelor’s degree,” said Dr. Robert Hilborn, head of the Department of Science/Mathematics Education at UT Dallas and principal investigator on the NSF grant.
The new partnership is built on a successful relationship begun by the UT Dallas Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, Collin College and Richland College. The community college partners aligned their pre-engineering programs with the electrical engineering major at UT Dallas, allowing transfer students to move seamlessly from a two-year program to completion of a bachelor’s degree.
“We are very pleased to continue and further our strategic 2+2 partnership in STEM education with UT Dallas,” said Bill Blitt, dean of academic affairs for Business, Information & Engineering Technologies at Collin College. “Given the critical need for STEM graduates in the United States and Collin College’s renewed focus on engineering, this NSF STEP grant uniquely offers our college an opportunity to reach out to potential science and technology students in area high schools and provide a pathway through Collin College for those students to achieve BS and MS degrees in STEM fields at UT Dallas.”
The STEP grant builds on existing programs at UT Dallas. Improving STEM instruction is the focus of the University’s Gateways to Excellence in Math & Science (GEMS) initiative, which is a plan to enhance the science and math learning experiences of UT Dallas students by strengthening the STEM gateway courses such as calculus and chemistry. STEP also complements the Comet Connection program, which allows community college students to lock in UT Dallas tuition at today’s rates. Comet Connection now has partnerships with all 50 public community colleges in Texas, as well as with the two private community colleges in the state.
During the first year of the grant, UT Dallas, Collin and Richland STEM faculty members will align their courses and begin advertising and recruiting for the program.
“The idea is to help each STEM major come to UT Dallas fully prepared for a rigorous and fulfilling completion of a bachelor’s degree,” said Dr. Robert Hilborn, head of the Department of Science/ Mathematics Education.
Rising Above the Gathering Storm, a report by the National Academy of Sciences, emphasized the economic importance of increasing the number of students with STEM degrees.