Initial Publication Date: May 11, 2017

Advice for Future Implementations

Part of the InTeGrate Middle Tennessee State University Program Model

Consideration of context:

MTSU is a public university enrolling approximately 22,000 students. There are relatively large suburban, rural, and urban (Nashville) commuter populations. The university also enrolls a relatively large number of veterans, first-generation college students, and transfer students. Median parental income is markedly lower than at many other universities including the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Taken together, these demographics demonstrate the need for programming that attracts and supports students who come from groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields.

The MTSU InTeGrate program model built on institutional and departmental strengths that already existed at MTSU and within the project team. MTSU Women in STEM Center Director Judith Iriarte-Gross was already involved in Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER), and the Center sponsors outreach events including an annual Expanding Your Horizons middle school girls STEM workshop.

Effective and engaging pedagogies are emphasized at MTSU and the project team was able to build on work and expertise that existed at MTSU. Prior to becoming involved in InTeGrate, Abolins was involved in a MTSU single-semester general studies course redesign project and a Tennessee Board of Regents two-semester general studies course redesign project. Both of these redesign projects were in large part aimed at improving retention. Also, as the principal investigator for a NSF-funded pre-service teacher research experience ("REU Site: Geoenvironmental Challenges in the Southeastern U.S."), Abolins began implementing parts of the InTeGrate "Humans' Dependence on Earth's Mineral Resources" module in 2013, and he implemented parts of the InTeGrate "Exploring Geoscience Methods" module in 2015. In 2015, Abolins joined an InTeGrate Research Team led by Dr. David McConnell and Dr. Elizabeth Nagy-Shadman, and he received additional professional development in the use of InTeGrate materials through this involvement.

Other characteristics:

  • MTSU has its own Stormwater Program, hosting clean ups as a part of its mission. Because this program already existed, it could be linked to the sustainability effort without having to develop a new program for supporting service learning.
  • MTSU has internal undergraduate grant programs in (a) sustainability and (b) research. These could be leveraged to support the type of work involved in the program model. The ongoing funding for sustainability also demonstrates interest and support on campus for sustainability initiatives.
  • Recruiting and retention of students from diverse backgrounds are emphasized at MTSU. Abolins is a part of the MTSU College of Basic and Applied Sciences Retention Committee which addresses issues of recruitment and retention and all MTSU Geosciences faculty are expected to participate in these efforts.

Things that worked well that we would do again

InTeGrate curricular materials are a great fit for the general studies introductory Earth Science course and also worked well in an introductory Honors course and an upper-level social science course. Abolins seeks to broaden the use of InTeGrate materials at all undergraduate levels in the future as part of an overall plan to recruit into MTSU Geosciences students interested in sustainability. He will continue to make extensive use of InTeGrate materials in his own general studies course, and he seeks partners who are interested in learning to implement InTeGrate materials in their own classrooms or who are interested in allowing a temporary InTeGrate classroom "take over."

The MTSU Stormwater program will continue to partner to implement service learning campus clean ups in the general studies introductory Earth Science course.

Dr. Judith Iriarte-Gross will continue to encourage MTSU Geosciences women to present workshops as part of the annual Expanding Your Horizons middle school girls outreach event.

Strategies for overcoming challenges

1)There ended up being little synergy developed between the MTSU Women in STEM Center and MTSU Geosciences women and student organizations. Therefore, there was no discernible impact on of the program model on student organizations or recruitment and retention of women. This challenge may be a function of the reletively short run time of the project. Iriarte-Gross and Abolins believe that intentional joint activities might lead to synergy and movement toward common goals in the future. One example idea is that undergraduate students could compete in a sustainable engineering challenge in which each team consists of women enrolled across multiple STEM departments including Geosciences.

2) No MTSU Geosciences students submitted proposals to the internal MTSU sustainability grants program, and there was no discernible impact of the program on the number of proposals submitted to the internal MTSU undergraduate research program. Greater participation in the program model by environmental geoscientists might lead to improvements in these areas. Toward this end, Physical Geography and "Environmental Issues, Impacts, and Sustainability" instructor Dr. Patricia "Pat" Boda and environmental geoscientist Dr. Racha El Kadiri are now contacts for students interested in preparing for the sustainability workforce by majoring in Geosciences at MTSU.

3)It took time for faculty members to include InTeGrate materials in their courses, and this time needed to include support from the project in updating the course. For example, there was little use of InTeGrate materials in the late 2015-early 2016 International Agriculture course because of the logistical challenges posed by the timing and international character of the course. Because the course happened relatively early in the project, and was conducted overseas, there was insufficient time to support Dr. Johnston through professional development. In the future, a better strategy would be for the instructor to gain experience implementing InTeGrate materials domestically prior to implementing InTeGrate materials in an overseas environment where remote support is more difficult.

4) We found implementation of InTeGrate materials typically requires more time than is indicated in information provided with the materials. Faculty and students working with the materials should expect that they "won't get it all done" or should allow 1.5-2X more time. Also, it would be worth exploring other ways to deliver the materials. For example, with the aid of a course management system (e.g., D2L) or on-line assignment system (e.g., Pearson's MasteringGeology) some materials could become pre-class assignments in a flipped instruction format, and some materials could become homework.

Things to think about before you start this type of project

Although project leaders Mark Abolins and Judith Iriarte-Gross were enthusiastic about working together to realize project goals revolving around MTSU Geosciences women, student organizations, and undergraduate sustainability and research projects, attaining these goals proved unrealistic in the given timeframe. Nonetheless, use of InTeGrate materials worked well within a general studies Earth Science course and will continue, providing undergraduates with the opportunity to discover how MTSU Geosciences can prepare them for the sustainability workforce.