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Wayne State joins ranks to change how STEM fields are taught at the undergraduate level

September 16, 2013
Andrew Feig (Top) and Mathew Ouellett (Bottom)

DETROIT — According to the National Science Foundation, many ongoing federal initiatives focus on raising the baseline performance of all students, but very few focus on the educational needs of those who are highly talented. If properly identified and developed through the education system, these students have the potential to become our nation’s future innovators in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

With help from National Science Foundation (NSF) funding, Wayne State University will join other universities across the country aiming to improve teaching methods in the STEM disciplines, ultimately supporting those students with an interest in STEM fields and improving their graduation rates.

The project, “Evaluation of WSU’s use of evidence-based methods in STEM instruction,” will receive $250,000 from NSF over the next two years to study the current classroom practices associated with STEM courses in four disciplines: biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics. The end result will be to improve WSU’s graduation rates of STEM undergraduate students, support student persistence within STEM majors, increase the number of STEM degree recipients, and make WSU graduates more effective in the 21st century workplace.

“Nationally, students who persist or continue with their STEM programs hovers around 20 to 25 percent, with the greatest losses during the first two years of college,” said Andrew Feig, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry in WSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and principal investigator of the grant. “With the help of this grant from NSF, we hope to break that pattern and raise the number of students who graduate with degrees in STEM-related programs at Wayne State.

A major focus of the program will be to enhance the classroom and laboratory experiences of Wayne State students through enhancing the teaching skills of faculty.

“The program will create faculty development workshops to facilitate the transition from lecture-based to evidence-based instructional methods, ultimately expanding the use of methods like peer-led team learning on campus,” said Mathew Ouellett, associate provost and director of the Office for Teaching and Learning at Wayne State and co-principal investigator on the project. “In addition, we will implement improved tracking of our students to understand where the problems in our curricula are that lead to attrition from STEM majors and poor graduation rates.”

The transformational outcomes of this program will not only benefit Wayne State’s faculty and students but universities across the United States.

“Wayne State prides itself in being a university of access and one that is highly research-intensive,” said Feig. “It has many programs that allow diverse groups of students to explore career options in the STEM disciplines. With the help of this grant, we will improve these students’ classroom experiences, ultimately benefiting them and the entire higher education community.”

In addition to Feig and Ouellett, other Wayne State co-principal investigators on the project include Robert Bruner, Ph.D., associate department chair of mathematics, Peter Hoffmann, Ph.D., professor of physics, and Karen Myhr, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences.

“WIDER Planning Grant: Evaluation of WSU Use of Evidence-Based Methods in STEM Instruction,” grant number 1347576, was funded by the National Science Foundation.

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Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research institutions in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu