University of Utah - Center for Science and Mathematics Education (CSME)

University of Utah
Established: 2009

Profile submitted by Jordan Gerton

Vision and Goals

Our Mission:

We empower students from all backgrounds to succeed in math and science by

  • Enhancing the quality and equity of K-12 math and science instruction in Utah
  • Promoting the academic success and career readiness of undergraduate students in math and science at the University of Utah
  • Increasing access to high-quality math and science experiences at the University of Utah

The Center for Science and Mathematics Education (CSME) was initially established to provide a bridge between the College of Science and College of Education at the University of Utah. With an initial focus on amplifying institutional efforts to develop a more sustainable math and science teacher education program, CSME has since broadened its mission to promote success in math and science for K12 and undergraduate students. Throughout its work, CSME demonstrates a strong commitment to broadening participation of underrepresented populations in math and science.

Center/Program Structure

The CSME is an independent center founded in 2009. The CSME reports to the Deans of the College of Science and College of Education, as well as to the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs (Provost). The Director has a tenured faculty position in the College of Science and is supported through department funds. There are currently 8 staff members working under the Director; all are 1.0 FTE, and two have career-line faculty appointments. The CSME often employs 2-3 part-time students and works with numerous volunteers. In addition, the Center has faculty collaborators from various departments/colleges (education, chemistry, biology, math, physics & astronomy) and is in the process of developing a formal faculty fellows program.

Are there advantages of being structured this way?

Reporting to both the College of Science and College of Education helps to connect the two and encourage communication and collaboration among faculty. In addition, the CSME is primarily made up of full-time staff who are able to dedicate their time to the Center's work, as opposed to faculty who have many other demands on their time. The CSME is working hard to embed faculty collaborators in target departments/areas, which helps to build support and provide insight into departmental culture.

Are there particular challenges that result from this structure?

With the CSME reporting to multiple entities, there are occasional communication difficulties, delays, and conflicting messages about priorities. In addition, because the CSME is composed mostly of staff, it can sometimes be challenging to build faculty engagement and support.

Center Funding

Funding for CSME comes from two main sources: the College of Science (via differential tuition), and administrative funds (which originate from State funds) from the Vice President for Academic Affairs office (Provost). The Provost funds are used largely to support the salary of four staff members, while the College of Science funds are used for operating expenses and several additional staff. A number of CSME programs are also supported by external grants, which sometimes fully or partially cover staff salaries.

How has this funding structure influenced the undergraduate STEM education programming the center offers?

This funding structure influences the balance of programming at CSME. Originally, the Provost's portion of the funding was much larger than the College of Science portion, and the Center was mostly focused on math and science teacher development/education/support and public engagement/outreach. Over time, the portion from the College of Science has increased substantially, and this has led to more effort toward undergraduate education, which is a priority for the College.

What are the specific advantages of having a center funded in this way?

Currently, this funding model is relatively stable, and the College of Science portion encourages the Center to align its efforts and partner with departments in the College. The model also encourages the Center to work strategically with the Dean of the College of Science and the Provost on developing and executing campus-wide student persistence/graduation efforts. Since the Center receives no direct funding from the College of Education, yet has math and science teacher education as a central mission, the Provost funds allow the Center some freedom to work in these areas.

What are the challenges?

This funding model can lead to some tension between the Center and individual departments within the College of Science, since the Center does not contribute much to the differential tuition pool, but draws heavily from it. The lack of funding from the College of Education can make collaboration challenging, while the close financial connection to the College of Science somewhat constrains the Center's ability to pursue projects that don't directly benefit the College. This can hamper flexibility/adaptability to a degree. One final challenge is that some of our most powerful/popular programs (e.g., Refugees Exploring the Foundations of Undergraduate Science Education - REFUGES) are supported largely by soft money (grants), which makes long-term planning and sustainability of those programs difficult.

Has this funding structure has changed over time?

The structure hasn't changed much, but as mentioned above, the balance between central and College of Science funds has shifted, leading to more accountability to the College of Science. This was largely prompted by a change in leadership both at the Provost and Dean levels.

Description of Programming

  • K-12 teacher preparation programs enhance math and science content knowledge and make teachers more effective in the classroom. Current programming includes formal programs of study (the Master of Science for Secondary School Teachers and Elementary STEM endorsement), content-based and pedagogical workshops/seminars, leadership development, and research opportunities.
  • Undergraduate retention and success are addressed by offering programs for under-represented students and encouraging best practices in undergraduate education. Projects include integrated curriculum development and curriculum reform; an LA program open to all College of Science departments; professional development for faculty, instructors, and teaching assistants; transition programs for underrepresented undergraduate students and/or transfer students entering the University; and cohort-based internships, research opportunities, and teaching experiences for undergraduates.
  • K12 student interest in higher education, and in STEM in particular, is cultivated through access to high quality University experiences, including: a STEM-based afterschool program, regional science fair, and opportunities to interact with undergraduate students.

Successes and Impacts

Enhancing K12 instruction

  • Among CSME's greatest successes is the Master of Science for Secondary School Teachers (MSSST) program. MSSST is a two-year degree for in-service secondary school teachers and has graduated over 70 students since 2009. MSSST students and graduates teach in a variety of schools, from charter schools to high-need Title 1 public schools.
  • Professional development activities and programs continue to reach new groups of teachers each year. The annual Earth Science Workshop reaches 20 teachers, and Elementary STEM Endorsement reaches 40. The 2017 SEEd Swap (a workshop focused on the implementation of new Utah state standards), drew 75. In 2017, a Teacher Leadership Cohort was established for selected graduates from the STEM Endorsement program. Many of our professional development workshops are replicated at other institutions, and our materials are widely used across the State.

Promoting the academic success and career readiness of undergraduate students

  • On an annual basis, approximately 50 faculty members from across the College of Science participate in professional development and/or peer learning opportunities, and over 70 undergraduates participate in cohort-based programs (internships, bridge programs, research opportunities, etc.). Each year, several national experts in undergraduate STEM education participate in our lecture series; we estimate over 120 different faculty members attend these lectures each year.
  • CSME was recently awarded an HHMI inclusive excellence grant to support the improvement of STEM pathways for transfer students.
  • We have been active in curriculum development; successes include the development of new, interdisciplinary science courses and the facilitation of curriculum reform discussions.
  • We have spearheaded the development of a learning assistant program that serves the entire College of Science. This program is still under development, and is gaining support from the Dean and department Chairs.

Increasing access to high quality math and science experiences

  • Programs for K-12 students connect a diverse group of prospective undergraduate students with the university. On an annual basis, the University of Utah Science and Engineering Fair brings over 600 students in grades 5-12 to the University of Utah campus, the REFUGES program serves over 70 students in grades 7-12, and STEM Mentors brings undergraduate students into 20 elementary school classrooms. The majority of high school seniors in the REFUGES program apply to the University of Utah and are accepted; many receive university scholarships.

Evaluation and Assessment

How does your center demonstrate its value, both in terms of assessing its own programming and responding to external evaluation?

External evaluators are hired for projects when resources are available. Internally, program participation is tracked. Participant surveys are used to collect feedback for program improvement. In some cases, some longitudinal tracking may take place. The CSME has an umbrella IRB for these program evaluation activities at our Center.

The CSME Director provides regular updates to the Dean of the College of Science, the Dean of the College of Education, and the Provost, and the Graduate School does an annual review of our Center (along with others on campus). Data collection/analysis/reporting is somewhat limited due to staffing constraints.

Elements Contributing to Success

CSME's success is driven by several elements:

  • A history of effective partnership-building, both on- and off-campus
  • Strong support from central administration and College of Science for our mission
  • A group of dedicated staff members who can consistently drive the work forward
  • Status as a permanent center with several years of visibility on campus, which has helped to build faculty support and awareness of our work.

Supplemental Materials

Essay: K-12 Community Partnerships Influence Everything We Do - Jordan Gerton, Center for Science and Mathematics Education, University of Utah