University of Arizona STEM Learning Center
Mission: To facilitate institutional partnerships, support effective initiatives, and advance scholarship that promote equitable access to high-quality, STEM experiences, resources, tools, and expertise.
Office of Research, Development, & Innovation (RDI), The University of Arizona
Profile submitted by Kimberly Sierra-Cajas
Vision and Goals
Vision: Every person has equitable access to STEM experiences that are inclusive and relevant.
Goal 1: To retain students in STEM pathways and increase the diversity of student populations in STEM and the STEM workforce.
Goal 2: To promote and disseminate best practices that increase the diversity of preK-20 students engaging in STEM and the STEM workforce.
Goal 3: To stimulate and cultivate an inclusive STEM learning environment.
The UA STEM Learning Center is a university-wide center, situated within the office of the Senior Vice President of Research: UA Research, Development, & Innovation (RDI). Our interim director reports to the Associate Vice President of Research Development, who reports directly to the Senior Vice President of Research. In order to accomplish our goals, one of our key strategies is to promote and support effective collaborative teams within the university, across institutions, or with industry partners.
Our staff consists of an interim director (.50 FTE), an associate director of operations (1.0 FTE), an assistant director of educational research (.25 FTE), an assistant director of workforce development (.50 FTE), and one program coordinator (.50 FTE), all appointed personnel (2.75 FTE total). We are in the first stages of a national search for a permanent director. This person will be a tenured, or tenure-track, faculty member within the UA College of Education (.60 FTE) and the director of the STEM Learning Center (.40 FTE).
Are there advantages of being structured this way?
(1) The STEM Learning Center sits outside of any college, school, or department at the UA allowing us to provide services to all programs, faculty members, and researchers.
(2) We can serve as an external evaluator or serve on external advisory boards to grant-funded projects.
(3) We have access to RDI's business services, such as communications and marketing, technology and website, and human resources support
Are there particular challenges that result from this structure?
After being established as a college level center in 2014, we became a university-wide center as of 2017. We have not seen challenges resulting to this new designation.
The STEM Learning Center was re-designated from a college-wide center to a university-wide center during the current fiscal year. Thus, we are still operating under the original budget. Currently, our space is donated from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; the Office of the Provost provides operating funds; the Colleges of Education, Engineering, and Science provide funding for portions of salaries; funded projects from NSF and ONR cover portions of salaries; industry partners (Microsoft and Raytheon) cover portions of salaries and programmatic costs; and RDI covers the gap for salaries and operations. Our budget for next year is likely to remain the same, except that our space will now be covered by RDI.
Office of the Provost - operating funds
RDI - .50 FTE for director and director's stipend, in addition to the gap for other salaries
College of Education - .25 FTE for assistant director educational research
College of Engineering - .25 FTE for assistant director workforce development
Microsoft - .25 FTE assistant director workforce development
College of Science - .41 FTE associate director operations
Funded projects - .24 FTE associate director operations
Raytheon - $15K for programming
How has this funding structure influenced the undergraduate STEM education programming the center offers?
In the past, undergraduate STEM education programming has been associated with grant-funded projects, or we have partnered with other campus initiatives to provide programming. For the upcoming years, we have proposed to offer quarterly in-service trainings on best practices for both UA and community STEM educators, supported by RDI.
What are the specific advantages of having a center funded in this way?
We only commit to programming for which resources are available.
What are the challenges?
We are not able to provide all of the STEM education programming that is necessary to meet the needs of our campus and community. At times, we overstretch our Center's resources in order meet crucial needs. Further, the funding from the individual colleges are year-to-year commitments and they have their own STEM education priorities.
Has this funding structure has changed over time?
There are two changes that have occurred. First, the move under RDI has provided more financial stability to our Center. Second, the funding from our industry partners will continue for as long as we are involved in the STEM education programming.
Description of Programming
We incubate and support innovative and promising initiatives. Currently, there are five signature programs that we are involved with that promote access to STEM education. (1) Project NAVIGATE (funded by ONR) supports 15-20 undergraduate, Navy ROTC midshipmen and returning undergraduate veterans, annually, to envision how their future careers rely on STEM skills by introducing them to geospatial thinking. This program offers an undergraduate course taught by a team of UA faculty members and Project NAVIGATE staff. (2) The Arizona's Science, Engineering, and Math Scholars Program (ASEMS, funded by U.S. Dept. of Ed., UA STEM colleges, and NSF) provides success strategies for approximately 245 undergraduate STEM students who are first generation, from low-income households, community college transfer students, and students with disabilities. Strategies includes STEM success courses, academic advising, academic and career mentoring, research shadowing, peer mentoring, and community-building activities. This program is operated by ASEMS staff, faculty members who are trained as ASEMS mentors, and undergraduate peer mentors. (3) Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS, funded my Microsoft) offers support and training for high schools to grow sustainable computer science high school programs. In the first year, we served three classes in three high schools. This year, we increased to 10 classes in nine high schools. This program is managed by the Center's staff and Microsoft staff with participation by high school teachers and industry volunteers. (4) Microsoft Community Development offers UA undergraduate STEM students opportunities to work with TEALS teachers and to co-teach high school computer science classes. (5) Imagine Your STEM Future (funded by Raytheon Missile Systems) is a high school STEM mentoring program for girls, grades 9-12, providing women engineers and scientists as in-class mentors. The program is managed by staff from the STEM Learning Center and Raytheon. Six years ago the program began with 25 girls and five mentors and has increased to approximately 140 girls and 28 mentors.
Successes and Impacts
A key success has been the ASEMS program. The 4th year persistence rate in STEM majors for ASEM Scholars is 81%, compared to 55% for traditional UA students. The 5-year graduation rate for ASEMS is 74%, compared to 61% for traditional students. In the coming year, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will initiate their first cohort of ASEM Scholars, supporting 75 freshmen and 25 community college transfer students. The UA Veterans Center has also approached the STEM Learning Center to advise on starting their own cohort of ASEM Scholars. Our successes are documented through the regularly scheduled reporting required by the Department of Education. The program director is responsible for all reporting.
Evaluation and Assessment
How does your center demonstrate its value, both in terms of assessing its own programming and responding to external evaluation?
Our progression toward strategic goals is guided by our logic model and documented through Smart Sheet. Once per month, during our staff meeting, we review our progress, make updates to our spreadsheet, and address obstacles or challenges that have prevented us from meeting our goals. Since we recently moved under RDI, our logic model is a 'living' document and we review it periodically to make sure it provides a viable plan. Further, our director reports regular updates to the Associate Vice President of Research Development. Finally, we publish an annual report to all stakeholders, including our UA funding entities and our Board of Advisors. We meet annually with our Board of Advisors, which includes representatives from campus, the local K-12 education community, elected city and state officials, and local industry, to report on our activities and to solicit their feedback about future directions. We do not have an external evaluation.
Elements Contributing to Success
Our successes are primarily due to our role in supporting productive collaborations. Before our center was established, the UA did not have a central service that brought together researchers, faculty members, program models, and evaluation resources. Project PIs relied on their own connections to build project teams. Our staff is tasked with curating information about programs that employ research-based strategies that broaden the participation in STEM and have data to support their successes. We also develop connections to community-based programs, industry partners, potential advisory board members with engagement expertise, and internal and external evaluators. We also make connections to in-person or online training for exemplary practices in engaging underrepresented students in STEM. This brings a great value to the UA faculty and researchers, as well as our community and industry partners.