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

University of Utah
Established: 2009

Profile submitted by Jordan Gerton

Vision and Goals

The Center for Science and Mathematics Education (CSME) was provisionally established in 2009 to provide a bridge between the College of Science and College of Education at the University of Utah, primarily to amplify institutional efforts to develop a more sustainable Math and Science teacher education program.

Since its inception, the CSME has broadened its mission and activities to include initiatives that focus on increasing student achievement and persistence in math and science. This broader mission is served by programs that seek to make an impact both over the long-term (K-12 teacher development) and short-term (undergraduate success). In addition, the CSME has a strong commitment to broadening participation of underrepresented populations in math and science through several K-12 student-focused initiatives.

Center/Program Structure

The Center for Science and Mathematics Education 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). Currently there are 9 dedicated staff members, two of whom have career-line faculty appointments, and three of whom are hourly employees at 0.75 FTE. One of the hourly employees is supported 100% by soft (grant) funds. The CSME often employs 2-3 part-time students and works with numerous volunteers. The Director has a tenured faculty position in the College of Science and is supported through department funds. The CSME also has several faculty collaborators from various departments/colleges (education, chemistry, biology, math, physics & astronomy) with varying levels of involvement in CSME activities.

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 (to a degree). This collaboration will be deepening with the recent hiring of two faculty members in the College of Education whose scholarship focuses on math and science teacher education. In addition, the CSME is primarily made up of full-time staff who can focus on this 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?
There are occasional communication difficulties, delays, and confusion due to having accountability to multiple Deans and the Provost, who sometimes have different/conflicting priorities and varying levels of awareness of our work. In addition, because the CSME is composed mostly of staff, it can sometimes be challenging to build faculty engagement/buy-in due to faculty misconceptions of staff expertise. Finally, faculty collaborators are not currently being used to their fullest extent.

Center Funding

Funding for our Center comes from two main sources: returned overhead dollars from research grants in the College of Science; and administrative funds from the Vice President for Academic Affairs office (Provost), which originate from State funds. The Provost funds are used largely to support the salary of four staff members (one of whom also has an unfunded career-line faculty appointment), while the returned overhead funds are used for operating expenses and several additional staff, some of whom are hourly employees (including part-time student employees). A number of Center 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 is now heavily influencing our efforts with regard to undergraduate education in relation to other Center efforts (e.g., teacher education and outreach). Originally, the Provost's portion of the funding was much larger than the College of Science returned overhead portion, and the Center was mostly focused on math and science teacher development/education/support and public engagement/outreach. Over time, the returned overhead portion has increased substantially, and this has led to more effort toward undergraduate education mostly at the expense of public outreach. Additionally, the mathematics teacher education/development efforts are now largely "owned" by the math department rather than the Center, which has allowed the Center to focus its teacher development efforts on science teachers.

What are the specific advantages of having a center funded in this way?
This funding model is relatively stable (under current circumstances) and the returned overhead portion encourages the Center to align its efforts and partner with departments in the College of Science. The model also encourages the Center to work strategically with the Dean of Science and also 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 on behalf of and in collaboration with other campus entities, specifically around math and science teacher education, K-12 student support, and increasing diversity in STEM.

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 returned overhead pool, but draws heavily from it. This portion of the Center's funding model would otherwise largely go toward the departments in proportion to the amount of overhead generated by each, so there has been some resistance to this from department chairs and some faculty. The lack of funding from the College of Education has, at times, made it difficult to collaborate most effectively with them, 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; e.g., we have been unable to maintain science outreach/public engagement as a central mission of the Center. On 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, the balance between central (Provost) and College of Science (returned overhead) 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

CSME strives to increase the number and diversity of graduates with competency in science and math. Efforts to broaden participation are woven throughout our programs and initiatives that address: 1) K-12 teacher preparation, and 2) undergraduate recruitment, retention, and success.

  • CSME's K-12 teacher preparation programs enhance math and science content knowledge and make teachers more effective in the classroom. Current programs include the Master of Science for Secondary School Teachers (MSSST – a degree program providing content-area training for licensed science teachers); Teacher Research Fellows (a lab or field research experience for teachers working alongside university faculty members); Elementary STEM Endorsement (offered in partnership with local school districts), and an annual "Earth Science from Western and Navajo Perspectives" Workshop (an intensive field experience with a diversity emphasis).
  • CSME promotes recruitment by providing diverse K-12 students with new ways to connect with math and science. Activities include the Salt Lake Valley Science & Engineering Fair (hands-on research experiences for students in grades 5-12), REFUGES afterschool program (enrichment and mentoring for refugee and new American youth in grades 7-12), and Sports 'n Science (using the popularity of sports to disseminate science content and generate interest in STEM). 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; professional development for faculty, instructors, and teaching assistants; transition programs for underrepresented undergraduate students entering the University; and cohort-based internships, research opportunities, and teaching experiences for undergraduates.

Successes and Impacts

K-12 Teacher Preparation:

  • 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 60 students since the CSME began in 2009. MSSST students and graduates teach in a variety of schools, from charter schools to high-need Title 1 public schools. A subset of MSSST teachers also participates in Teacher Research Fellows.
  • Professional development activities reach new groups of teachers each year. The annual Earth Science Workshop reaches 20 teachers, and Elementary STEM Endorsement reaches 40.

Undergraduate Recruitment, Retention, and Success:

  • Programs for K-12 students connect a diverse group of prospective undergraduate students with the university. The Salt Lake Valley Science and Engineering Fair brings over 600 students in grades 5-12 to the University of Utah campus annually, the REFUGES program serves over 70 students in grades 7-12 each year, and Sports 'n Science has reached thousands of people since 2012 through its website and messaging campaign.
  • Initiatives for undergraduate retention and success involve both faculty and students. On an annual basis, over 30 faculty members from across the College of Science participate in professional development opportunities; 10 incoming undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds participate in a Summer Science Bridge program, and approximately 30 students participate in cohort-based programs (STEM Mentors, US2TEM, Internship Program).

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 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 an area of future growth for our Center.

Supplemental Materials

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