University of Houston STEM Center

The mission of the University of Houston STEM Center is to increase the quantity and quality of students entering universities with the intent to pursuing STEM careers, and of graduating scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in order to meet both national and regional STEM demands

Office of the Provost, University of Houston Central
Established: 2013

Profile submitted by Dr. Bonnie J. Dunbar, NAE

Vision and Goals

The University of Houston STEM Center, which was recently established, endeavors to provide internal and external STEM leadership by supporting and coordinating current university-related STEM programs and by developing new programs as required. The Center aims to positively impact each phase of the STEM student pipeline, from K-12 student preparation, to undergraduate student experiences which improve retention, to teacher development. In addition, the Center engages other essential elements required for STEM success, such as family engagement in STEM education, the involvement of K-12 school district leadership in student development, collaboration with non-profits and Informal Science Education (ISE), and the media portrayal of scientists and engineers.

Center/Program Structure

The University of Houston STEM Center is housed within the Provost's Office as an Academic Center and has the full support of the President and Chancellor of the University. The Center itself has a small administrative staff, but coordinates and advocates for programs across the campus which reside in the four major STEM colleges: The Cullen College of Engineering (CCOE), the College of Technology (COT), the College of Natural Science and Mathematics (NSM), and the College of Education (COE). Each of these colleges manages programs which are either internally funded or externally funded, such as from the National Science Foundation (NSF) or local corporations. The UH STEM Center manages two specific programs in partnership with the community and the colleges: The Science and Engineering Fair of Houston and the Mars Rover Competition. The various programs involve more than 100 faculty and hundreds of campus and external volunteers. The UH STEM Center is advised by an internal faculty/staff team composed of the leadership of the various programs, an internal executive team composed of the four Deans, and an external advisory team composed of business, academia and governmental representatives. The UH STEM Center will also become the focal point for the collection and dissemination of program metric data.

The UH STEM Center and its Director have active Twitter and Facebook accounts, and a new website in beta development. The website serves as a portal to all University of Houston campus STEM programs and provides entry points for students, parents, teachers, faculty, and the media. It also includes access to many STEM resources, such as national reports (e.g. NAE Rising Above the Gathering Storm) and regional school data.

Description of Programming

The University of Houston has developed a wide range of university-based STEM programs, some of them in existence for decades. They span the K-16+ pipeline and include collaboration with faculty, K-12 teachers, corporations, government organizations, non-profits, and the community. The Houston School District is the largest in the state of Texas, and the 7th largest in the nation. It provides both enormous opportunity as well as some of the most significant challenges to addressing our national STEM demands. Some of the most notable UH programs include:

  • teachHouston: The first successful replication of the UT YouTeach program for STEM teachers. Housed in NSM, it provides a dual degree to majors in math, chemistry, biology, and physics in both their major as well as education. Graduating teachers are in the community and all are still engaged in the profession. The local school districts consider them the "rock stars" of education.
  • Science and Engineering Fair of Houston (SEFH): SEFH has been in existence for about 50 years. This unique program is a partnership between the UH and the SEFH 501(c)3. The program engages about 30,000 students annually. Student projects are exhibited at the George R. Brown Convention Center, with the final awards taking place on the UH campus. The director of the UH STEM Center is also Director of the SEFH.
  • PROMES: Program for Mastery in Engineering Studies: A unique program for undergraduate engineering students designed to increase retention and graduation success. The program is known for increasing retention at least 10 percent and uses extensive surveys and metrics to inform pedagogy and programming.
  • Mars Rover Competition: This program was initiated in collaboration with NASA and local industry in 2002 and is designed to engage underserved youth in primary or middle school. It succeeds through corporate grants and significant volunteer support. This program is now housed within the UH STEM Center.
  • Scholarship Enrichment Program (SEP): SEP is a faculty and peer-to-peer mentoring program for undergraduate students in the UH College of Natural Science and Mathematics (NSM). The UH STEM Center will be growing this program and migrating it to other colleges.
  • The UH Center for STEM Teacher Professional Learning: A new program recently granted to the College of Education that takes aim at improving STEM teacher content knowledge and teaching strategies. It provides faculty-led professional development to STEM teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade. UH was one of three universities selected by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to establish such a center.
  • GK-12: An NSF-funded program which places graduate students on the career path to faculty teaching in K-12 classrooms. Participating graduate students learn teaching skills, while teachers and students acquire new STEM nanotechnology knowledge.
  • G.R.A.D.E. Camp: Designed to introduce girls in 8th through 12th grade to the field of engineering, the camp is sponsored through industry support from ExxonMobil, Halliburton, BP and Fluor.

Successes and Impacts

The STEM programs each collect their own metrics. However, the UH STEM Center is in the process of collating this data and providing salient information for posting on the website and for distribution to donors or grantors. For example, teachHouston has extensive tracking data on its graduates and where they are in the school systems. The STEM Center will be initiating a more extensive data collection program to include the achievement of students in their classes. As noted, the SEFH reaches approximately 30,000 students each year, and we will be working with the school districts to identify student outcomes. PROMES has been very successful in the College of Engineering, as demonstrated by surveys and retention data. G.R.A.D.E. camps have had positive impacts on high school girls, but actual STEM graduation data has not yet been collected. The SEP program in NSM also has shown success in student retention.

Elements Contributing to Success

Early successes of the newly established Center have been achieved through working with committed University leadership, dedicated faculty engaged in successful programs, and a community interested in change. The Center recognizes the significant need to ensuring that entering Freshmen are prepared with the necessary math and science skills (such as biology, chemistry, and physics) to succeed. The Center and its supporting faculty and deans also recognize the challenge of retention in STEM majors. Given that attrition exceeds 50% in all of the STEM majors, successful programs such as PROMES, need to be augmented and new innovative programs established.