Center for STEM Education, UNC Charlotte

Promote STEM education across PK-16

University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Established: 1984

Profile submitted by Dr. David Pugalee

Vision and Goals

The mission of the Center for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education is to promote a regional vision for STEM education and outreach, to increase capacity in leadership, and to facilitate collaborative partnerships for addressing STEM priorities for PreK-16.

Center/Program Structure

The Center for STEM Education at UNC Charlotte is part of the state-wide North Carolina Mathematics and Science Education Network and is a public service/instruction Center at UNC Charlotte. The center builds and extends partnerships throughout the university and community to strengthen the teaching and learning of mathematics, engineering, science and technology in P-12 schools. The Center, with its partners, conducts a variety of professional development programs for teachers and student programs for students PK-16 to achieve the mission of improved STEM education. Programs of the Center include Summer Ventures for Science and Mathematics for high achieving high school students in science and mathematics, Pre-College Programs for middle grades and high students, Advanced Placement Institute for high school teachers, summer science and mathematics workshops for teachers, and competitions such as the Charlotte Area Science Olympiad and the UNC Charlotte Supercompetition in mathematics, chemistry and physics. Additionally, the Center secures external funding for research and service in the teaching and learning in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The Center has a staff of seven, including a full-time director and associate, and an annual budget of about $1,000,000.

The Center is in the College of Education but recognized as an inter-institutional Center. Center goals and objectives reflect focus on university STEM activities and regional efforts.

Are there advantages of being structured this way?

Are there particular challenges that result from this structure?
The challenge is to be a strong voice for overall STEM efforts across the university.

Center Funding

Funding from state budget allottment for operating expenses - supports staffing and some daily operations; grant funding for specific programs; contracts for services.

How has this funding structure influenced the undergraduate STEM education programming the center offers?
Funding translates into time for projects; specific projects require funding to support.

What are the specific advantages of having a center funded in this way?
Operation is supported which takes pressure away from total dependence on external support

What are the challenges?
Funding for staff and related resources to engage in specific priorities and efforts.

Has this funding structure has changed over time?
The funding structure hasn't changed but the allocation given to the Center has decreased.

Description of Programming

The Center operates programs for PK-16 students as well as professional development. Student oriented events include participation in The Intel® International Science and Engineering Fair® (Intel ISEF), the world's largest international pre-college science competition. The NC MSEN Pre-College Program is designed to broaden the pool of students who graduate from high school prepared to pursue mathematics and science at the university level and move into careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The program offers rigorous science and mathematics based academic enrichment classes (through Saturday Academy and Summer Scholars, and activities (college tours, motivational speakers, and other trips) to students in grades 6-12. The program also supports a Research Experience for 11th and 12th Grade Student Internship Program which engages participants in rigorous, inquiry-based instruction and research experience and also to help participants to develop a greater understanding of the research process, how to utilize technology and acquire the fundamental skills used in all research. The Center also supports student involvement in the NC Academy of Sciences, an annual regional Science and Engineering Fair, Science Olympiad, and Super Competition (secondary mathematics, chemistry, physics). The Center operates one of six NC programs as part of the Summer Ventures in Science and Mathematics providing a residential experience for rising high school juniors and seniors involving intensive study in a STEM area including lab and field components. The Center supports undergraduate education at UNC Charlotte by promoting STEM education through the Urban Student Alliance for STEM Education which is a student organization formed to promote an awareness of STEM education issues and to provide students interested in STEM education careers opportunities for professional enrichment and leadership development. A Noyce Scholars program focusing on chemistry and physics teacher preparation was recently awarded to the Center in collaboration with the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Physics.

Work with educational professionals includes grant funded activities, agreements with school districts and agencies, and outreach as part of the mission of the Center. These events include the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium which promotes original research and experimentation in the sciences, engineering, and mathematics at the high school level and publicly recognizes students for outstanding achievement. Grant funded activities have supported thousands of teachers in becoming highly knowledgeable about and pedagogically skilled in effectively instructing students in STEM areas, implementation of standards-based curriculum, and assessment of student learning. Other professional development opportunities includes Advanced Placement Summer Institutes; an Annual Regional STEM Conference; professional development focusing on Earth Systems, Forces and Motion; curriculum development and professional development support on Energy Education, Engineering is Elementary, Field Ecology Institute, Middle School Alliance, Statewide Institutes for Teacher Excellence (mathematics and science); and support for the Common Core standards including online professional development in mathematics. The Center is also involved in the Elementary Mathematics Specialist Program including the design and delivery of curriculum to provide elementary teachers an opportunity for focused content and pedagogy development in mathematics.

Successes and Impacts

Mathematics INstruction using Decision Science and Engineering Tools (MINDSET) uses decision making tools from Industrial and Systems Engineering and Operations Research in a fourth-year high school mathematics curriculum. Principal performance related goals of the project are to improve upon the math students' ability to formulate and solve multi-step problems and interpret results, and to improve students' attitude toward mathematics. This work is a collaborative involving NC State University, UNC Charlotte, and Wayne State University and is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Assessment Practices to Support Mathematics Learning and Understanding for Students (APLUS)is a multi-million dollar state MSP project which will support the implementation of an assessment model in grades K-2 with an emphasis on providing teachers in K-2 with the skills and knowledge to effectively use Assessing Math Concepts while also working with third grade teachers to provide information and develop skills to support students transition into third grade. The partnership involves six districts across the state of NC and three universities. The project will target approximately 1025 K-3 classroom teachers in the partner districts with plans to scale up professional development across the state
by training up to 30 teacher leaders to be prepared to lead state-wide professional development.

Evaluation and Assessment

How does your center demonstrate its value, both in terms of assessing its own programming and responding to external evaluation?
Quarterly report. Grant funded projects are evaluated. Other evaluation processes are not consistent due to lack of funding to support overall evaluation procedures.

Elements Contributing to Success

The Center receives support through funding provided to the University through state legislative allotments. Grants and awards provide substantive support for special programs with several multi-million dollar projects currently in progress. The Center is part of a larger network of STEM education organizations across the state and is part of the University of North Carolina STEM Collaborative whose members include six STEM education centers housed at UNC system institutions across the state. The Center works with all colleges across the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and is housed in the College of Education.

Supplemental Materials

Essay: Center for STEM Education, UNC Charlotte - Dr. David Pugalee, Center for STEM Education, UNC Charlotte