Initial Publication Date: September 15, 2016

Match Structure to Mission

Campus Centers in STEM Education »

When determining the organizational structure and the infrastructure of a STEM education center, or a center of teaching and learning, it is important to understand the purpose of the organization, that is, what it is established to do or accomplish. The organizational structure must match its mission to maximize its effectiveness. A mismatch between the mission and the structure of a center may result in a lack of direction and impact. This, in turn, can create a lack of buy-in to the work of the center, which decreases effectiveness. One way to maximize the effectiveness of a center is to ensure that the organization's mission, its structure, and its activities are congruent. There are a variety of examples that demonstrate this congruence, regardless of the type of center or the scope of its activities. To achieve alignment organizational structures can be put in place early on to establish a focused mission, or organizational structures may grow and evolve over time as influenced by opportunities and institutional need. There are focused centers - those whose work concentrates on a narrowed set of initiatives - and those that, for whatever reason, have a more diffuse mandate.

Centers with Focused Mission

A focused mission can be beneficial a variety of ways: 1) a small center with limited human resources can prioritize their programming in pre-determined areas of need, 2) a newly established center can focus on their top priorities making stakeholders aware of available resources, 3) for an established center looking to restructure and place greater emphasis on STEM education, focused goals can prevent mission creep and the possibility of working in unintended areas that stretch the limitations of staff skills. The process of defining a focused mission generally provides a strong framework around which to organize the activities of a center. The specific aims of the center (e.g., research, professional development, leadership, mentoring, assessment, K-12 outreach, broader impacts, partnerships) guide the organization for the work and the time and effort devoted to each aim. Objectives, personnel recruitment and allocation, and evaluation follows and enables the center to maintain the alignment needed for success.

The following centers with focused missions show a strong consonance among their missions, structures and activities. The themes that flow through these centers include center staff expertise in STEM disciplines, needs-based initiatives and programming, and stakeholder input and buy-in.

Centers for Teaching and Learning

The Work of the MVPs - Tiera Coston, Xavier University of Louisiana
The Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development's holistic faculty development mission engages in activities and displays a reporting structure that appears to facilitate fulfillment of the mission.
Measuring Impact of Professional Development - Kathleen Koenig, University of Cincinnati
The Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning at the University of Cincinnati focuses on faculty development around effictive and innovative pedagogical approaches.

STEM Education Centers

Center for Research in SEAD Education - Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
The CRSE mission is to serve as a catalyst for high quality STEM learning and career awareness for all P-12 learners through active engagement in research, evaluation, and dissemination of information and opportunity.
Center for Excellence in STEM Education (CESAME) - California Polytechnic State University
The Center for Excellence in STEM Education (CESAME) at Cal Tech focuses on outreach to strengthen the STEM pipeline.
Discovery Learning Research Center - Purdue University
he Discovery Learning Research Center at Purdue University focuses on research activities.
Center for STEM Education Initiatives - Georgia State University
The Center for STEM Education Initiatives at Georgia State University focuses on student support.
STEM Learning Center ( This site may be offline. ) - University of Arizona
The STEM Learning Center (UA-SLC) at the University of Arizona focuses on partnerships with industry.

Centers with Broad Mission

In contrast to centers with a focused mission, some centers arise from a variety of STEM initiatives and programs, such as: local discipline-based STEM education research communities, externally funded STEM initiatives, K-12 teacher preparation, and these centers often bring together a variety of existing or proposed activities, including STEM research, pedagogical transformation, or outreach under a single organizational unit so as to encourage and foster synergies and collaborations. Because these centers are addressing a broad variety of needs, they may have more complicated or compartmentalized organizational structures, reflecting the wide range of constituent agendas and preexisting groups.

Center for Advancing STEM Teaching, Learning & Evaluation (CASTLE) - Rochester Institute of Technology
CASTLE was created out of a Science & Math Education Research Collaborative with a Learning Assistant program, an outreach mathematics experience for middle-school girls, and numerous independent faculty curriculum development projects. CASTLE now emphasizes its existence as the connections between these heretofore independent programs.

In some cases, a common thread runs through many or all of the center's activities. For example, one such theme could be discipline-based education research. While a center may engage in a variety of non-research activities (e.g. learning assistant programs for student success, faculty development workshops, and programs to improve retention of first-generation, students with disabilities, and underrepresented groups at large), these activities arise from within a culture of STEM education research, are proposed by active STEM education researchers, and retain distinct characteristics that reflect this origin. Such a central theme may also affect who the center reports to in the institutional leadership (i.e. the Vice President for Research vs. the Dean or Provost).

STEM Transformation Institute - Florida International University
The Institute will constitute a STEM education research and development hub at FIU.
Center for Research on Teaching and Learning in Engineering - Western Michigan University
CRLT-Engin focuses on integrating research on learning and teaching in engineering into the fabric of the College of Engineering and using that to foster student success in the classroom and beyond.
Center for STEM Learning - Colorado University at Boulder
The CSL works within and outside the university to to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.