STEM Transformation Institute

The STEM Transformation Institute is a living laboratory dedicated to the creation, validation and implementation of inclusive models of STEM education supporting all learners.

College of Arts & Sciences, Florida International University
Established: 2012

Profile submitted by Laird Kramer

Vision and Goals

The proposed Institute will constitute a STEM education research and development hub at FIU. The Institute will work across STEM disciplines, evolving into a laboratory for science, mathematics and engineering education reform, providing a unique portal into understanding how to catalyze development of students from historically underrepresented groups into STEM fields and careers. In essence, the STEM Institute will guide FIU's STEM education, reform, policy development and research missions.

Center/Program Structure

The STEM Transformation Institute is a multidisciplinary institute crossing the Colleges of Arts & Sciences, Education, and Engineering & Computing; the Division of Research; and the Provost's Office. It operates as an independent unit, reporting to an executive board (consisting of the Dean of Arts, Sciences & Education (chair), Dean of Engineering & Computing, and the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs) that, in turn, reports to the Vice President for Research. The Institute is run by faculty and includes a Director and two coordinators (serving as assistant directors), and an associate director for research. Staff and co-appointed faculty report to the director. Dedicated staff currently includes one administrative coordinator.

The center includes multiple lines to be split with the colleges and searches are currently in progress for several positions. Current FIU faculty will be named Fellows of the Institute through a application process. There are provisions for external association with the institute, but the current focus is establishing the institute internally.

Are there advantages of being structured this way?
Organized outside of colleges, versus inside one collage, indicates that all colleges are treated equally. Reporting to the VPR sends a message that it is a research institute. There is autonomy in operations.

Are there particular challenges that result from this structure?
No major challenges, there is significant partnership between the institute and administration that facilitates communications. Being outside the colleges has resulted in varying ownership by some colleges, but this may be more reflective of the individual leaders than a structural impediment.

Center Funding

The majority of the institute funding originates in grants, mostly NSF but also HHMI, UTeach and others. There is institutional support for several staff and faculty as well as learning assistants.

How has this funding structure influenced the undergraduate STEM education programming the center offers?
The institution leadership aims to position FIU as a national leader in STEM education research and practice. Also, state performance metrics are drivers of institutional practice. Thus much of our work focuses on faculty development, classroom change and institutional change in higher education. External funding is also used to target research and practice at the undergraduate level.

What are the specific advantages of having a center funded in this way?
There is an alignment between the center goals and the institutional goals. It does provide a framework to argue in favor of improved evidence-based practices.

What are the challenges?
Fostering change at a large institution, given the inherent inertia of a large system, while meeting expectations of an exuberant administration presents challenges, yet this is part of operating in this space.

Has this funding structure has changed over time?
Not substantially.

Description of Programming

FIU has energized its STEM disciplines with the Learning Assistant Program, imported from University of Colorado Boulder. It now is incorporated into 6 disciplines and supports 140-150 LAs each semester. The program is tied to our new secondary education programs that are collaborative across the Colleges of Arts & Sciences and Education. The program compliments a large PLTL program in biology. FIU is also a center for Modeling Instruction, a guided inquiry curriculum that embeds students into the practices of scientists to understand science. Modeling operates both at FIU in physics and as a professional development program for K12 teachers. 

Audience includes STEM faculty, administrators, STEM students including pre-service teachers, in-service K12 teachers, K12 students, local K12 districts, external collaborators. The Institute especially seeks to support the unique diversity of FIU and South Florida students in an increasingly diverse nation.

Successes and Impacts

Institutionalization of grassroots faculty-led projects that facilitated administrative commitments has been a major success at FIU. The Learning Assistant program that grew from 8 physics LAs in Spring 2008 to over 140 LAs in six disciplines for the past 2 semesters, where FIU provides the majority of LA funding. The Mathematics Mastery Lab rapidly evolved from a Title V pilot project to full scale implementation impacting over 1,700 College Algebra students in Fall 2012, while exceeding the target student success rates. And the STEM Transformation Institute also originated in faculty-led efforts that coupled to a strong administrative commitment.

Evaluation and Assessment

How does your center demonstrate its value, both in terms of assessing its own programming and responding to external evaluation?
The center prepares and submits an annual report that is then submitted to the state. There is a more significant review every three years. Our first is scheduled for the upcoming year.

Elements Contributing to Success

Core to the success has been the partnerships between faculty, administrators, and students; as well as a strong track record in funding and research.

Supplemental Materials

Essay: Partnerships are the foundation for innovation - Laird Kramer, STEM Transformation Institute, Florida International University