Initial Publication Date: July 23, 2013

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 one full 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. The center also reports to an External Advisory Board as an oversight measure. 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 includes

Faculty Development

  1. SPARCT: STEM Professional Academy to Reinvigorate the Culture of Teaching (NSF-WIDER no. 1347640). The goals of this grant are to retain and support STEM majors through faculty professional development that increases the use of evidence-based practices in introductory STEM courses, results in long-term learning communities, incorporates quality peer observational strategies, leads to enhanced student learning, and enhances scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). See our publication in Journal of STEM Education for a summary.
  2. Mini-grants. Internal funds available to support faculty research and travel in STEM Education ($500 each).

Undergraduate Student Development

  1. STEM Undergraduate Research and Internship Symposium at FGCU. We offer an informal venue that provides an opportunity for all STEM majors to present the results of their research so that no student leaves the university without having this experience. This program is growing each year. In Dec. of 2019 we had over 120 student poster presentations and had one oral session highlighting STEM student research.
  2. Mini-grants. Internal funds available to support student research and travel in STEM areas ($500 each).
  3. STEM Summer research scholarships. In collaboration with the FGCU Foundation, the Whitaker Center identifies and awards undergraduate STEM majors funds to continue their research during the summer months with FGCU faculty. In 2020 even during covid 13 awards were distributed.
  4. STEM Undergraduate Future Teacher Scholarships. The Whitaker Center administers a Noyce Teacher Scholarship program (NSF-Noyce no. 1540824) and a complementary Richard M. Schulze Foundation teacher scholarship program for Undergraduate STEM majors who complete and Education minor and agree to teach in the public school system upon graduation.

Community and K-12 Engagement

  1. Summer Research Opportunity (SRO). A two-week summer research experiences for middle school regional science fair participants, and interested high school students in a two county area. (~25 middle school students, ~10 high school students, up to 2 FGCU faculty supported.)
  2. STEM Institute Summer K-12 teacher workshops. Two week-long workshops offered during summers since 2013. This program has served 275 teachers in the local 5-county area surrounding FGCU. Four FGCU faculty supported per summer in collaboration with the Conservancy of SW FL.
  3. Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science (GEMS). A hands-on Saturday opportunity encouraging middle school girls in STEM. See more here:
  4. High School Solar Go-Kart Challenge with Middle and Elementary solar challenges. For more information:

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. While several programs were not implemented during 2020-2021 due to COVID, others were moved into virtual environments and continued to be impactful.

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 include the Solar Go-Kart Challenge, SRO Program and the STEM Institute teacher workshops mentioned above.

The SPARCT faculty development program has completed 5 cohorts and has developed several unique assessments, both horizontal and vertical. This program has impacted over 25% of the STEM faculty at FGCU which may be enough to impact greater institutional change on our campus.

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 who is full-time (12-month) at the center and reports to the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Oversight is provided by an internal leadership team (faculty) and an external advisory board made up of community stakeholders. Such oversight and the director's ability to collaborate with multiple stakeholders plays an important role. The Center's ability to reach across colleges and provide support for both faculty, students, and K-12 teachers while communicating with upper administration has contributed to the success of this center.