Initial Publication Date: August 2, 2013

Georgia State University Center for STEM Education Initiatives

STEM Education Initiatives at Georgia State University center on collaborative programs that foster excellence in PreK-20 STEM teaching and learning in an urban context, with an emphasis on those under-represented in STEM education.

Georgia State University
Established: 2007

Profile submitted by Dr. Dabney Dixon

Vision and Goals

The Georgia State University Center for STEM Education Initiatives seeks to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning at the University. We use innovations in teaching approaches, implementation of evidence-based teaching practices, and significant support for our students to help them graduate with the depth of technical knowledge, the curiosity, and the problem-solving skills to compete in the 21st century. We engage in research to generate new knowledge about teaching, apply theories to the everyday practice of instruction, and develop, evaluate, and critique educational policy.

Center/Program Structure

The Georgia State University STEM Office is an independent unit reporting to the Provost with a Coordinator, Co-Coordinator, one full-time staff person, and a half-time graduate assistant. The Office is currently (2016) headed by Dabney Dixon, Coordinator of STEM Education Initiatives for the University and the College of Arts and Sciences. Susan Swars is the Coordinator of STEM Education Initiatives for the College of Education. Dustin Butts, Research Coordinator for STEM Education Initiatives, is the Office's full-time staff person. He is assisted by a half-time graduate assistant.

The Office facilitates programs focused on both internal and external collaboration. Internally, we run a large mini-grant program that supports evaluation of new instructional innovations and the implementation of evidence-driven teaching approaches. Externally, we work with K-12 schools in the Atlanta area.

Are there advantages of being structured this way?
Probably, a clearer reporting structure would be advantageous.

Are there particular challenges that result from this structure?
It is not always clear who should know about what.

Center Funding

It has been supported by the State of Georgia and the University. State funding ends this summer and unfortunately, so does the University funding (which was pass-through from the State, and thus ended as well). At this point, we are only on grants except for the salary (half time teaching release) of the Director.

How has this funding structure influenced the undergraduate STEM education programming the center offers?
We have had great latitude to spend funds to make a variety of differences. STEM mini-grants to faculty have made great differences in teaching plans and strategies. We have had the opportunity to make a number of administrative advances with our funds. We have been very active is starting CUREs on campus.

What are the specific advantages of having a center funded in this way?
A funding source that allows creativity in programming and working with faculty to make changes in a variety of areas.

What are the challenges?
A single decision can vastly change the structure of what is possible.

Has this funding structure has changed over time?
(See above.)

Description of Programming

Georgia State University is a large, urban, and diverse institution in the heart of downtown Atlanta. We have approximately 25,000 undergraduates and 32,000 total students enrolled. We are a significant educator of students in the STEM disciplines, with more than 4,000 majors in these fields. Our most impactful, far reaching programs are our mini-grant program, Supplemental Instruction, and our FOCUS program.

Mini-grants are sponsored by the University of Georgia System office. In FY2012, GSU funded 20 proposals. Calculus for the Life Sciences was created to emphasize applied math problems related to biology and chemistry. Online Homework in Chemistry has provided academic support to our students in Freshman and Organic Chemistry. College Physics for Biological Science Majors was created as a new section of algebra-based Freshman Physics by Dr. John Evans. This approach was so successful that all sections of algebra-based Freshman Physics now use the curriculum. Supplemental Instruction (SI) at GSU offers free, out-of-class, optional study sessions for gate-keeper courses, chosen by need (greatest number of students, largest sized sections, and lowest grade distribution). In Fall 2012, SI sections were available for 15 STEM courses (8 funded by STEM Office). This program has been very successful. Attendance as few as five times correlates with approximately a 0.5 point increase in the course GPA. The Fostering Our Communities Understanding of Science (FOCUS) Program allows STEM majors to participate in a service learning course in which they are placed in a high-needs urban classroom setting for 8 hours a week as curriculum experts. The program now has a waiting list.

Successes and Impacts

Our biggest success has been in Calculus (811 students enrolled in Calculus I in AY 2012-2013). Three years ago, we began a program of extensive change and innovation to support our students. These have included: a) the addition of Supplemental Instruction, b) weekly graded homework, and c) careful advising of students to be sure they are in the correct course. Over time, we have made changes in the frequency and timing of offerings, and the way that credit is given for participation in these helping mechanisms. Of particular importance, a new Calculus for the Life Sciences course sequence started in Fall 2012. This course has extensive applications drawn from the biological, biochemical and biophysical sciences, chemistry, physics, economics, sociology, ecology, and geology. It has proved popular with students and faculty alike. A total of 148 students enrolled in the sequence in its first year.

Evaluation and Assessment

How does your center demonstrate its value, both in terms of assessing its own programming and responding to external evaluation?
Grant funding, annual reports, periodical newsletters.

Elements Contributing to Success

Essential to the success of the GSU STEM Office has been strong support from the Deans and Associate Deans from both the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education. The office has also received strong support from Dr. Timothy Renick, Associate Provost for Academic Programs. The University has provided financial support in the form of 1.5 staff positions (Research Coordinator and half-time Graduate Assistant).

The Office of Institutional Research provides top-notch data and statistics for the STEM Office's research. Leadership for the Supplemental Instruction program comes from Gala Jackson, Academic Professional for Supplemental Instruction.

The Office also benefits from the University's long term commitment to STEM education. The development of new courses like Calculus for the Life Sciences and the biology focused Algebra Based Physics were long term efforts.

Supplemental Materials

Essay: Building Partnerships - Dr. Dabney Dixon, Center for STEM Education Initiatives, Georgia State University