College of Science STEM Accelerator
The STEM Accelerator program was created by the College of Science in 2011 to focus on the success of undergraduate students.
College of Science, George Mason University
Profile submitted by Jessica Rosenberg
Vision and Goals
The Accelerator works to:
- increase the number of STEM majors,
- improve retention rates of STEM students,
- reduce the time to graduation,
- help STEM graduates join the workforce or continue their education.
The Center is an independent unit with seven faculty members from seven STEM disciplines. Each teaches half time in their departments and works half time in the Center during the academic year. Accelerator faculty work full time in the Center during the summer. Each member is expected to work closely with their respective departments. Center faculty primarily conduct educational research.
The director is a faculty member who reports to the Associate Dean of the College of Science.
Are there advantages of being structured this way?
Because all faculty work half time in their respective units and half time in the Accelerator, the team has close contacts with faculty in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Astonomy, Math, Geology and Forensics.
Are there particular challenges that result from this structure?
Our Center was originally supported by money given by the VA governor.
Faculty have multiple grants including NSF Noyce,S-STEM, and IUSE grants, State grants and donations from companies such as Batelle.
How has this funding structure influenced the undergraduate STEM education programming the center offers?
Noyce funding has allowed us to support 27 secondary preservice teachers. The S-STEM grant allows us to support ten rural STEM students/year. The IUSE grant is an intergral part of Mason's contribution to the International Learning Assistant Alliance. State grants and money from companies allows us to offer affordable summer camps: two for middle and high school girls of color and two for incoming freshmen. We are able to fund about 90 Learning Assistants through grants and departmental contributions. Outreach sctivities include research support for Loudon county high school students, boy and girl scout STEM events, Math Counts, 1-8 grade Regional Science Fair among others.
What are the specific advantages of having a center funded in this way?
Since faculty are 12 month employees, we conduct all of our activities with minimal cost. Outside grants and support of the College and STEM departments allows us to expand our programs every year.
What are the challenges?
Seven faculty members are really not enough man-power to support all of the programs that we run. As a result, we are unable to do as much research as we should on the programs we run and have very little time to write papers to desseminate the findings that we have.
Has this funding structure has changed over time?
Every year our funding sources increase. We now have several grants and other sources of funding in additional to the unviersity and department support that we receive. For example, now more than half of our learning assistants are supported by grants and departments.
Description of Programming
Our seminal program is our learning assistant (LA) program. In our first year we suuported only two LAs, Currently, we have more than 90. They have made it possible for our faculty to add more active learning to their teaching. These LAs and our Noyce Scholars also participate in most of our outreach activities whcih we could not run without them. Their roles include camp counselors and math and science fair judges. They have enabled us to introduce oral reviews in math and biology classes. An LA mentors our rural students, others assist with team building and data collection.
Our primary focus is on undergraduate success, but we run a multitude of outreach activites
Successes and Impacts
Our LA program is our central program. We support over 50 courses a semester. Flipped classes began in 2012 and have multiplied across the college. Center faculty have successfully promoted active learning techniques within their departments, and COS faculty have reported that they could not conduct active learning without learning assistants. In assigning LAs, We give priority to all COS faculty who are facilitating learning in flipped classrooms.
Our camps have supported K-12 interest in STEM/ We ran our first Regional Science Fair five years ago for 1st-8th grade students and we have received recognition that allows the top students to move on to national competition where they have done very well. We now support science research for over 200 Loudon County high school students.
ason's STEM Accelerator Program received the "2016 Programs that Work" award from Gov. Terry McAuliffe at the Library of Virginia in Richmond on January 19, 2016. This is the second time the program has been recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia since it has continued to show evidence of its positive impact on student and teacher learning from across the state in both rural and urban areas, and statewide.
Evaluation and Assessment
How does your center demonstrate its value, both in terms of assessing its own programming and responding to external evaluation?
We have conducted research on several aspects of our program; and have both presented papers and published articles about the work we do.
Elements Contributing to Success
Our offices are located in the suite adjoining the Associate Deans' offices on the first floor of the COS. We receive stromg support from the deans, the provost's office, and our STEM departments. All of our programs have expanded every year. We are only seven years old, but our programs have grown expnentially.