STEM Ed Centers: A National Conversation > Center Profiles > Whitaker Center for STEM Education, Florida Gulf Coast University
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Whitaker Center for STEM Education at Florida Gulf Coast University

The Whitaker Center's vision is one in which all students in K-20 STEM educational environments are actively and collaboratively engaged in inquiry, interdisciplinary learning, and research experiences.

College of Arts and Sciences, Florida Gulf Coast University
Established: 2004

Profile submitted by Laura Frost

Vision and Goals

The Whitaker Center's mission is to become a comprehensive model of inquiry and innovation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education, serving as a nexus of expertise and leadership for Southwest Florida. The Whitaker Center takes a systemic approach to enhancing and reforming STEM education by conducting research in STEM teaching and learning; developing innovative curricula, resources, and materials; providing professional development opportunities for educators; developing and supporting programs for students; and building strong community partnerships.


  1. Enhance and foster innovation, interdisciplinary activities, and research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education by providing support to faculty in professional development and scholarly activity related to the Whitaker Center Mission.
  2. Provide expertise in inquiry-based environments that engage students in meaningful science, technology, engineering, and mathematics experiences through support of model undergraduate research activities, specialized academic programs, and student organizations.
  3. Contribute to outreach activities in the local, regional, and national community that promotes public interest and support of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.
  4. Support K-12 educators in the pursuance of quality learner-centered science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.
  5. Provide expertise in evaluative services for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics educational endeavors including internal and external research, projects, and initiatives.

Center/Program Structure

The Whitaker Center for STEM Education was established in 2004 as a University Center and reports to the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at FGCU. The Center provides annual reports to the State University System of Florida and is reviewed annually by FGCU's Office of Research Services.

As such, the Whitaker Center is an independent University Center. The center is run by a full-time director (12 month out-of-unit faculty) and a half-time staff position. The Whitaker Center also hosts the Whitaker Eminent scholar, a full time faculty member whose main focus at the university is internal and external collaboration in their research area. The center's programming is currently advised by a 6-8 member faculty leadership team consisting of faculty in the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Education, and Engineering. Facilitated by the director, both internal and external collaboration in STEM Education areas is expected.

Description of Programming

Some of the Whitaker Center's successful programming in 2012-2013 included

  1. Mini-grants supporting faculty research and travel in STEM Education areas, and undergraduate research or travel. (20-25 awarded annually)
  2. Summer Research Opportunity (SRO): a two-week summer research experiences for middle school regional science fair participants in a three county area. (45-55 middle school students, 4 FGCU faculty supported.)
  3. STEM Institute Summer K-12 teacher workshops in collaboration with the Conservancy of SW Florida. Two week-long workshops offered summer 2013. (40 K-12 teachers from 5 counties served by FGCU. Three FGCU faculty supported.)
  4. STEM Teaching and Learning programming primarily attended by FGCU faculty(averaging 20 participants over 8-12 events in 2012-2013)
  5. STEM Research programming primarily attended by FGCU faculty. (Averaging 40 participants over 8 events in Spring 2013)
The Whitaker Center participates and represents FGCU in community STEM initiatives collaborating with businesses, local non-profits, and school districts as needs and interests arise.

The Whitaker Center is also involved in grant writing aligned with the Mission and Goals of the Center.

Successes and Impacts

The biggest community successes this past year include the SRO Program and the STEM Institute teacher workshops mentioned above.
The SRO program impacted about 50 middle school students, 4 FGCU faculty, and 4 K-12 teachers. Activities were documented, students presented their research to an audience at the end of the camp, and a questionnaire regarding their perception of the camp was administered. This year the SRO program attracted community support allowing the program to continue annually into the future.

The STEM Institute summer workshop for K-12 teachers is on-going this summer. The first workshop of the summer has been completed with 18 teachers completing the week. The second workshop is full. 3 FGCU faculty are supported along with the Whitaker Center director as facilitators for this week-long workshop. Teachers from the five-county area served by FGCU are participating. Teachers were asked to develop their own inquiry-based activities using a backward design methodology which was modeled by the facilitators during the week in various areas of STEM. The teachers were formatively assessed daily, and provided an end of the week overall assessment of the programming. The teachers also participated in a pre-, post-, and will complete a 4-month post "Inquiry Science Implementation Scale (ISIS)" survey which gauges how implementation of inquiry based practices might affect learning outcomes (Brandon et. al. 2009). Data and results are currently in process on this project.

Elements Contributing to Success

During the lengthy history of the center, the directors had various responsibilities over the years. Previous directors were faculty with release time, a full-time administrative director (never a faculty member) was hired at one point. The Center has finally hit on a leadership strategy that appears to be working. The current director is a STEM Education faculty member with teaching responsibilities who is full-time (12-month) at the center. The leadership team's direction and history at the university is critical to the accountability of the center. Center oversight by the University plays an important role.

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