Initial Publication Date: January 28, 2016

Building a Successful STEM Center on Campus: Major Themes

There is no single mechanism for building a strong STEM center, but participants at the 2013 Workshop: Creating a National Network of STEM Education Centers brainstormed ways to improve STEM education on campus.

Improving the STEM learning experience of students on campus

Building a campus or STEM community that is focused on improved STEM teaching and learning can improve the learning experience of students. Such a community can extend the capacity to evaluate programs and assess learning on campus through research, expertise, instrument development or coordination of campus activities. In addition, an inclusive community can attract and support student populations, including those underrepresented in the sciences.

At the faculty-level, improving students' learning experience could involve providing faculty development opportunities including learning communities that draw from across departments, seminars, book groups, workshops, and courses, supporting curricular innovation including curriculum development grants, coordinating curriculum/learning opportunities across departments, and offering advanced degrees in science education for faculty. In a similar manner, training and preparing teaching assistants can improve their teaching as well serve as a professional development opportunity for those students. In addition, efforts can be made to improve connections by offering STEM-wide programming (e.g. undergraduate research programs, involvement in K-12 education), which can in turn, foster movement of ideas on STEM education from the larger STEM education community into the campus community. To support such programs, institutions could obtain or support faculty in obtaining external funding for curriculum projects.

Improving the flow of students into STEM undergraduate programs, including students from underrepresented groups

Support is needed to attract and retain underrepresented student populations in the STEM disciplines. Ideas for attracting, supporting, and retaining students, including successful examples are available on the Increase Diversity website from the InTeGrate Project. Other mechanisms to attract students and bolster support are to pique students' interest early by creating bridge programs, incorporating programs for K-12 students, and obtaining or supporting faculty in obtaining external funding for K-12 outreach projects.

Improving the preparation of students for STEM undergraduate education

There are a wide range of opportunities to prepare students for STEM undergraduate education, including offering in-service teacher PD programs and teacher preparation degree programs. Institutions can also offer K-12 curriculum development or programming for K-12 students (in and out of school) and can incorporate students on campus by coordinating participation of undergraduates in the K-12 programming. Additionally, fostering and supportinging research on teacher preparation and K-12 student learning. To support these endeavors, obtain or supporting faculty in obtaining external funding for K-12 teacher education projects and can encourage on-site research, curriculum assessment, and program evaluation. This would further extend the capacity to evaluate programs and assess learning on campus through research or implementation programs in collaboration with school systems.

Understanding teaching and learning

Understanding teaching and learning is key to improving it. Some ideas for building this understanding include creating research programs including graduate programs with foci including K-12, undergraduate, and free-choice learning, fostering research on teaching/learning or SOTL, and obtaining or supporting faculty in obtaining external funding for educational research projects. Explore some of the projects that are focused on understanding teaching and learning from the SERC Research on Teaching and Learning Site Guide.

Broadening the impact of campus research

Broadening the impact of campus research can be done in a number of ways, including, for example, outreach programming for the public or school groups, coordinating activities that enhance the broader impact of campus research, and running undergraduate research programs. As above, obtaining or supporting faculty in obtaining external funding for outreach projects can help in this endeavor.

Related resources:

Support national scale improvement in STEM education

Creating a STEM Center community helps to support and engage institutions in national-scale improvement in STEM education. Some ideas for supporting this include:

  • host national conferences, workshops and events
  • create online resources
  • publications
  • lead or participate in state-wide or national networks or projects
  • state and federal advocacy to inform education policy issues