STEM Central

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Critical Elements of STEP-funded Project at Boise State University

Summary of Critical Elements of the Idaho Science Talent Expansion Program at Boise State University (NSF STEP Award DUE-0856815, 2010-2015) Submitted by: Janet Callahan (PI and Associate Dean, College of Engineering).

The most effective best practice for Boise State University’s science talent expansion program involved developing the educational approaches of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) faculty using faculty and instructor learning communities (FLCs). These FLCs were grant-funded, year-long experiences that provided training on innovative teaching strategies, training on assessment and learning, and that provided the reflective time needed to adapt and adopt new teaching practices. Altogether, over three years, three groups of STEM faculty (8 to 12 participants per year) participated in the training. Although the project had several other effective program activities, by far, the FLC project leaves the greatest legacy in that it has changed how approximately 30 STEM faculty approach teaching and learning. These faculty, in turn, have become educational leaders within their home departments in science, mathematics and engineering.

The infusion of STEM faculty with increased awareness of and interest in evidence based instructional practices that resulted from participation in year-long faculty learning communities could not have been accomplished without STEP funding. In addition, and as a result of the several STEM –focused program activities, a campus STEM community developed among STEM faculty and students as a result of the STEM-focused grant activities that transcended college and departmental boundaries.

The emphasis on sustainability by the National Science Foundation influenced the strategies which were considered from the outset and caused us to include faculty development. The program design by NSF – the duration of five years in conjunction with the level of funding were both key to this project’s success. This allowed sustained funding of successful program activities such as faculty learning communities and allowed us to redirect efforts as we learned successful strategies from others, through the forum of the annual meeting. Also, the program requirements which involved the active participation of the Provost in advisory board meetings, and the critical review at the three year point, held us accountable and were critical to the project’s success. 

As a result of the increased scrutiny on first-time, full-time retention of STEM majors within STEM disciplines, which was a primary grant goal, an increased awareness of issues facing STEM majors has been realized by the institution as a whole. Clearly presented data helped focus attention and resources on the first-year STEM experience in the classroom. As a result, near the close of this grant, retention of first-time, full-time undergraduate students within STEM majors has increased from its pre-grant level by 7%.  Enrollment of under-represented minority students in STEM increased from 8.1% to 11.5% (F2010-F2013). In addition, as a result of the regional demand for a strengthened STEM workforce, STEM has become a named part of the university’s strategic plan for 2012-2017, with a strategy that states: “Increase student recruitment, retention and graduation in STEM disciplines.”

The elements of future NSF funding priorities that will focus on increasing the numbers of STEM students who graduate should continue to include: accountability, institutional leader participation, annual meetings which facilitate communities of practice, five-year duration and critical review. In addition, an idea to consider is a mandate for any future call to include STEM faculty development as a required element critical to institutional transformation of student climate.

This material was based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DUE-0856815 (Idaho STEP). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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