Institute for STEM and Diversity Initiatives (formerly STEM Central Station)

The STEM Station was created through partial support from the National Science Foundation through an I^3 grant in 2010. It represented a definitive and intentional strategy to create and sustain an educational culture where STEM students, faculty and staff are engaged in learner-centered experiences that facilitate successful navigation through critical junctures in their educational and professional careers. The theoretical framework of the STEM Station was the concept of self-authorship.

The institutionalization of the STEM Station is the Institute for STEM and Diversity Initiatives.

Provost Office, Boise State University
Established: 2014

Profile submitted by Donna Llewellyn

Vision and Goals

The Institute for STEM and Diversity Initiatives aims to build a diverse community of students, faculty, and others involved and invested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The primary goal of the Institute is to promote a culture of active inclusive excellence in STEM at Boise State University. The Institute fosters diversity in STEM through

(a) Advocating for and nurturing underrepresented student and faculty success inside and beyond the classroom,
(b) Strengthening avenues of communication and collaboration among University and external partners, and
(c) Conducting and catalyzing STEM educational research.

Whenever possible (when not restricted by funding source), we consider both STEM and Diversity in as broad a context as possible.

Center Structure

The Institute for STEM and Diversity Initiatives is housed under the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies. The staff includes an Executive Director, a Diversity Coordinator, a STEM Project Manager, a Data Analyst, and a Management Assistant. In addition, the Institute employs several student workers. The leadership team for the NSF STEM Station grant continue to advise the Executive Director and provide a sounding board for ideas and programs. In addition, there is an internal stakeholder group that allows for connecting with and serving the interests of the whole campus. The Executive Director reports to the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies, with a dotted line to the Vice President for Research and Economic Development.

Are there advantages of being structured this way?
We have direct access to both the Provost and the VP for Research. We are also in a unit of other offices dedicated to undergraduate student success so that we can share ideas, collaborate, and learn from each other.

Are there particular challenges that result from this structure?
The dotted line is really whatever we choose to make of it – it does not hold any real accountability. Our office's work extends beyond undergraduates so there are some issues that are not really relevant to some of the other units we are clustered with.

Center Funding

The ISDI is funded through a combination of institutional support (state appropriated funds), grant funds, and local funds (returns from indirects from grants). Our budget primarily goes to pay for the staff, with little funding for operations or materials or programming at this time.

How has this funding structure influenced the undergraduate STEM education programming the center offers?
Some of our programming is built into grants that we run or with whom we coordinate or collaborate. Examples include NSF LSAMP, NASA Space Grant activities, and collaborations with Learning Assistants, REUs and other student research programs funded by a variety of grant sources. Because we don't have a lot of operations money, most of our other programming is accomplished through collaborations with other offices. For example, our STEM education programming also includes a focus on improving faculty practice in effective STEM teaching, so we coordinate with the Center for Teaching and Learning, academic departments, and the Division of Research and Economic Development on STEM education grants.

What are the specific advantages of having a center funded in this way?
We are "forced" to collaborate with other offices and units on campus and with community partners. This means that we are sure that our programming is aligned with other priorities for the university and it gains ownership from multiple leaders, not just our center.

What are the challenges?
It feels like we are regularly "passing the hat" and selling our ideas to others, we can't just decide that something is a good idea and go ahead and do it. Also, some of our staff are on soft money which makes their existence a bit tenuous and insecure. We are always looking ahead at the next grant opportunity. For special events such as summer research conference, we must reach out to solicit external partners.

Has this funding structure has changed over time?
Our center started with strong support from grant-funding for specific programs and personnel, supplemented by funds from indirect returns, three colleges, and the Provost's Office. With the grant ending, it has moved to being more supported by the institution. This has also increased our scope of operations and priorities beyond the goals and activities of the main grants.

Description of Programming

Most of the programming offered through the Institute is done in collaboration with other programs and grants. The Boise State LSAMP program is run out of the office and the Idaho Space Grant Consortium student programs are also organized by this office. Other initiatives include collaborating with the College of Engineering on outreach and recruiting programs, working across campus on graduate student and faculty environments with special attention to those underserved in STEM, and supporting others' work by providing accurate data and other research resources.

Evaluation and Assessment

How does your center demonstrate its value, both in terms of assessing its own programming and responding to external evaluation?
Our grant funded programs are evaluated according to those grants and reports up to the funding agencies. For other programming and operations, it is up to us as to how we demonstrate value. We have an annual stakeholders meeting where we report out what we have accomplished and ask for feedback and guidance about campus priorities. We meet regularly with our collaborators across campus to hear what they need to ensure that we are meeting their needs. We also track all interactions to ensure that we are building community and meeting our partners. We file quarterly reports up to the Vice Provost.

Prior Successes and Impacts from STEM Station

Strategies to address student critical junctures:

  • Learning Assistants.
    • The Learning Assistant program expanded and provides peer-led learning in gateway STEM courses. In fall 2012 the Learning Assistant Program provided 22 LAs in 26 sections of 14 gateway STEM courses (1518 students enrolled). 420 (28%) attended LA sessions with 207 attending 3 or more sessions. An analysis of the LA program showed participants who attended 3 or more sessions had a course grade .48 points higher than non-participants, and an 85% passing rate compared to 68% for non-participants. In spring 2013 (underway), LA Program is providing 34 LAs in 30 sections of 19 gateway STEM courses.
  • Undergraduate Research Support.
    • Providing university-level leadership to advance student involvement in this high-impact practice included a) integrated Summer Research Community (NSF Chemistry and Mathematics REUs, LSAMP, EPSCoR plus McNair Scholars, NASA, NIH and others) with 104 student and 27 regular faculty/staff participants; b) 4 research internship workshops and follow up sessions with 150 participants; c) leadership of efforts to provide an integrated and coordinated university-level undergraduate research program.
  • Student Success and Engagement Initiatives.
    • STEM Station coordinated with many NSF programs (such as STEP, S-STEM, LSAMP, etc.) and others to implement and support a variety of strategies including STEM-specific orientation, college visitation programs, academic workshops, summer bridge program LSAMP activities, and much more.
  • STEM Careers Class.
    • A new seminar series, ENGR 397 Perspectives on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Careers was offered in Spring 2013. The course was designed to highlight career opportunities for STEM majors. Guest speakers from the region presented 35-45 minute seminars to students that highlighted their own careers, their companies and provided advice to the students. More than 30 students enrolled and average attendance at each seminar was 50 people including faculty and staff from the College of Engineering. Students ranged from freshman to seniors in Biology, Mathematics, Business and Engineering majors.

Strategies to address faculty critical junctures in teaching:

  • Partnerships in pedagogy.
    • To encourage ownership of the STEM Station mission beyond the STEM Station team, we reached out to faculty across STEM departments to solicit input on specific projects to advance research-based pedagogy, faculty-student interaction, integration of teaching and research, and other critical junctures. We provided a rubric of guidelines and a selection process to assure the proposed partner projects were aligned with the mission of the STEM Station. We provided significant partnership in the form of strategy, implementation, funding support, assessment and follow up on projects. The wide range of projects included a curriculum mapping and STEM leadership project in the STEM department with the most degrees produced (Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering) and sponsored seminars such as Dr. Nathan Klingbeil from Wright State University. We also continued to support STEM faculty adoption of the high impact practice of Service-Learning.
  • Graduate Certificate in College Teaching
    • Discussed in prior section
  • Integrating teaching and research.
    • In partnership with the Center for Teaching and Learning we developed an original video workshop on a topic that had been suggested by faculty. The workshop was titled "Integrating Teaching and Research...not just for superhero faculty" and was part of the Great Ideas in Teaching and Learning Symposium in January 2013, was attended by 17 people and received very good input.

Strategies to address faculty critical junctures in STEM education research:

  • STEM Education Research Scholars Group.
    • The group meets every other week to discuss approaches and ideas for STEM education research. Currently, there are 8 scholars representing civil engineering, mathematics, chemistry, psychology, sociology, construction management, and instructional technology. The scholars are conducting a research project as a group as well as individual projects. The group project is focused on developing the tools needed to determine STEM student levels of self-authorship and the creation and validation of an observation tool to document the learning partnership model in STEM classrooms. Projects range from developing NSF proposals to determining the levels and nature of motivation of students involved in undergraduate research. Similar to last year, the goal is the successful completion of data collection and the subsequent sharing of results through the submission of publishable research reports. Based on the work of the 2011-12 cadre we currently have one report under re-review and another under the final stages of development.
  • Advancing expertise in STEM education research.
    • In the role of catalyst for increased faculty involvement in research-based pedagogy, the STEM Station team has been involved in leading and mentoring STEM education research expertise and teams through the submission of internal and external proposals aligned with mission of the STEM Station. In this reporting period, STEM Station team had involvement with 17 external STEM education grants submitted (14 NSF, 3 other agencies). Currently 6 were awarded, 7 pending and 4 declined. Of particular note is Boise State's WIDER Catalyst to Assess Learning and Instructional Practices for Evidence-Based Reform (CALIPER) program. This new project instigated by the STEM Station team is gathering data on reformed teaching in STEM core courses and exploring relationships between instructional practices and intended student learning outcomes.

Strategies to address university critical junctures

  • Tenure and Promotion.
    • The STEM Station analyzed promotion and tenure guidelines in STEM departments to identify the ways in teaching effectiveness is articulated. Under the direction of the Provost, a faculty committee was charged with revising the University promotion and tenure guidelines to increase emphasis on teaching effectiveness. The STEM Station analysis was shared with the faculty committee. The revised policy is before the Faculty Senate now.
  • STEM advocacy on behalf of NSF grant teams.
    • We connected with the NSF STEM education teams as a group to identify university-level STEM priorities and directions. Development of STEM data and evaluation methods is one common interest. A monthly newsletter updates ~400 STEM faculty.
  • STEM community connections.
    • The STEM Station has taken on the role of campus leader and voice for STEM education. To fulfill this mission as well as address the student critical juncture of entry point, we present about STEM at events and visitation days for STEM focused high school students. We also provided educational events for middle school students through adult community members by creating programs associated with our co-hosting of NPR's Talk of the Nation Science Friday in Boise. Also we provided extensive programming support for the 200+ person Pacific Northwest Louis Stokes for Minority Participation conference. Two community members serve on the STEM Station advisory board.

Elements Contributing to Past Success of the STEM Station

The success of the STEM Station success is attributed to the focus on the needs and critical junctures of students and faculty and success with the implementation of the related support programs. The success led to confidence and expectation in the STEM Station to facilitate the development of meaningful solutions, coordination of the collaboration with the right people, and thinking creatively about how to approach the complex problems associated with STEM teaching and learning. We also attribute our past success to addressing the needs of students and faculty based on data. We are research driven - which allowed us to make decisions and determine priorities for our students, faculty and campus based on data, which we felt was critical to our success and to the incredible support we have from the campus and greater STEM education community.

Supplemental Materials

STEM Station Brochure (Acrobat (PDF) 1.2MB Aug1 13)

Essay: Creating and sharing a new mission - Donna Llewellyn, Institute for STEM and Diversity Initiatives, Boise State University