Fostering Interdisciplinary or Integrative Learning

Faculty have been supported in developing modules, case studies, and cross-listed advanced electives that focused on problem-solving and critical thinking by integrating knowledge from various disciplines. Discussions were initiated around the development of an Integrated Science Course sequence for first-year science majors. A tenure-track science educator with an interdisciplinary science/science education background was hired to spearhead these curricular efforts. Interdisciplinary research-based initiatives that encourage student innovation are promoted, including the Spelman Pioneer Award in Research Competition (SPARC), and student-developed competitive research grants. Building on the success of the previous HHMI Programs that supported the development of cross-disciplinary Cognate Linkage Modules, faculty support have developed interdisciplinary modules, case studies, and projects that link multiple courses across the STEM disciplines. Faculty have received stipends to develop materials and travel funds to attend curriculum workshops focused on introducing interdisciplinarity into the curriculum. Modules focus on facilitating active learning through group work, allowing students to synthesize information from multiple disciplines, and presenting realistic and relevant problems that allow students to integrate knowledge. Some topics are revisited throughout a given department curriculum based on the effect of spiraling knowledge over a series of advancing courses. An example of an advanced elective that could be developed include Quantitative Models in Biology, Computational Biology, Biophysical Chemistry, and Introduction to Informatics.

In order to facilitate the curricular enhancements regarding the Integrated Science Course sequence, the assistant professor of science education hired has an interdisciplinary science background and a strong interest in science education and curriculum development. She works closely with faculty on interdisciplinary course and module/case study development and co-teaches interdisciplinary electives. She works with the program co-directors and STEM faculty to offer student development workshops and seminars, and works with the co-directors and evaluation services to assess SURE and CURE data. The faculty member also identifies funding opportunities to support student, faculty, and curricular development.

Spelman Pioneer Award in Research Competition (SPARC)

Based on earlier success with Spelman student teams competing for the Microsoft Imagine Cup, the HHMI Program has recently instituted an annual research competition, SPARC. Interdisciplinary student teams of three to five members representing at least three departments are invited to develop a solution to a general scientific or biomedical problem posed by a corporate partner or by the HHMI Program administrative staff in conjunction with a STEM faculty team. The HHMI administration has worked closely with the college Institutional Advancement staff to identify corporate sponsors and/or individual sponsors (alumnae) to support the year-long competition. All students are invited at the beginning of the fall term to an information session that gives an overview of the project and competition guidelines. Teams then register with the HHMI Program administrative staff in order to be able to purchase supplies. Depending on the scope of the project and the number of teams involved, the corporate sponsor(s) may supply funds to augment the supply line provided by the HHMI Program. Teams are guided through the academic year-long process by a team of two faculty leaders who meet periodically with teams to monitor progress and set periodic milestones that the teams must meet, such as submitting periodic progress reports. Student teams that complete the competition present their work during the spring term. During the first competition, teams presented at the annual Spelman Research Day. At present, the teams will present later in the spring term so that the campus can focus exclusively on SPARC.

For the first SPARC held during the 2013–14 academic year, student teams were challenged with designing and developing a new app that could be used by the campus community to help members meet their wellness goals. This tied in with a major focus of President Beverly Daniel Tatum's, which was her initiative of the Wellness Revolution at Spelman. Institutional Advancement was able to identify a total of $10,000 as award monies for the inaugural research competition. A total of six interdisciplinary teams comprised of three to five students from a minimum of three disciplines participated in the competition and presented during Spelman's Annual Research Day. Their work was evaluated by a team of judges that consisted of a Google representative, the private donor for the competition, Satori Interactive representatives. The winning team developed the "Improving Efficiency of Technology for the Spelman Community Working Toward Wellness Goals via an Interactive, Personalized Mobile Application." The application utilized individual platforms uniquely catered to the Spelman community to help students, faculty, and staff achieve their personal wellness goals.

While the initial SPARC was deemed a success, there was room for improvement as indicated by the post-interview feedback given by the students and the faculty leaders who participated in this inaugural competition. The competition will be announced earlier so that teams can plan their strategies over the summer. A better, more concise communication system via a closed group site will be put in place, and student teams will have the judging rubric made available to them early in the competition. In addition, the Program Administration worked with the college Institutional Advancement Office to identify potential sponsors.

The second SPARC is ongoing for the 2015–16 academic year. Students have been "Empowered: Developing Creative Solutions to Address Medical Disabilities through Innovative Technologies" using Spelman's Center for Innovation and Design. There will be over $40,000 in awards, including the first prize of $30,000, which was donated by Genentech. Students will present their research in April 2016 to a panel of distinguished judges and an audience of their peers.

Student-Developed Competitive Research Grants

In the final two years of the current grant funding, SMART Scholars, RAP trainees, and other motivated STEM and psychology majors, are invited to develop and submit original research grants for funding through a competitive process. Students interested in applying will have to: (1) attend a grant writing workshop offered by the HHMI Program; (2) submit a "letter of intent" briefly outlining their research in April of the year prior to receiving an award; (3) submit a letter of support from a faculty research mentor willing to work with the student; and (4) submit a proposal following published guidelines in early September. Funding can cover either an academic year or ten weeks during the summer. One student PI or two co-PIs can submit a grant with a maximum budget of $10,000 (with a minimum of two proposals being awarded each year.) A faculty research mentor can serve as a "consultant" on the proposed project, but the research must be student-generated and not merely a reiteration of a current faculty project. Students can request funds for stipends, consultant fees, research supplies, travel, and publication costs. Grants will be reviewed by the Internal Advisory Board, with awards being granted no later than the end of September in a given funding year. Grantees will be required to submit periodic progress reports, present their research findings at Research Day and at least one national scientific conference, prepare a manuscript by the end of the funding period, and apply to at least three graduate programs. A smaller renewal grant can be submitted for the following year, however, it would need to show significant progress in the previous funding cycle and have additional project aims. One outcome of this initiative is that students will be encouraged to work collaboratively with faculty mentors to coauthor manuscripts for publication and assist in preparing applications for supplemental grants.

Interdisciplinary Curriculum Development

The HHMI Program's vision is to provide an interdisciplinary academic and research experience that develops and prepares women of African descent to be innovators and global leaders in science. In alignment with the initiatives of the college goals, the HHMI program plans to demonstrate the following broader impacts that are to: (1) train and support student researchers in several departments; (2) provide a platform for faculty across disciplines to develop a more interdisciplinary curriculum for promoting science as a way of knowing; (3) and cultivate students' scientific curiosity and independence as scholars while reinforcing science.

A total of three faculty were supported in the summer of 2013 to develop an interdisciplinary course module. The Obesity Conundrum Module was developed by two biology department faculty, and a faculty member from the chemistry department. As outlined in the table below, the interdisciplinary module was implemented within four distinct courses in fall 2013. Faculty members teaching Food Chemistry, Mammalian Physiology, Scientific Communication, and Biology of Women will utilize the "Obesity Conundrum Module." In the spring of 2014, two additional courses, Nutrition and Cancer, and Food and Media, were incorporated into the module.

Table 1. Interdisciplinary Modules Developed, 2012-2013

2012-2013 Module Indicators

Name of Module Developed

Obesity Conundrum Module

Number of faculty developing module:


Number of departments collaborating to develop interdisciplinary module:


Name of departments:

Biology and Chemistry

Number of courses that module will be integrated:


Name of academic courses that module will be integrated into:

Food Chemistry ( Fall 2013)

Mammalian Physiology ( Fall 2013)

Scientific Communication( Fall 2013)

Biology of Women ( Fall 2013)

Nutrition and Cancer( Spring 2014)

Food and Media (Spring 2014)

During the 2013–2014 program funding, the curriculum development activity was implemented by five faculty from STEM and education disciplines. Faculty received support to develop interdisciplinary modules in the classroom experience. Three faculty implemented the modules into two courses for non-STEM and STEM majors to develop an interdisciplinary course module. The Obesity Conundrum Module originally developed in 2013 continued to be implemented into the classroom. In addition, a biology faculty member utilized course-based research experiences (CREs) courses that integrate research into biology courses, and a faculty member in education studies developed a module with efforts from chemistry and physics faculty.

Table 2. Interdisciplinary Modules Developed, 2013–2014

2013–2014 Module Indicators

Name of Module Developed

Obesity Conundrum Module

Dye-sensitized Solar Cell Module

Number of faculty developing module:


Number of departments collaborating to develop interdisciplinary module:


Name of departments:

Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Education

Number of courses that module will be integrated:


Name of academic courses that module will be integrated into:

Food Chemistry and Biology of Women ( Fall 2014)

Scientific Communication ( Fall 2014)

Biology of Women ( Fall 2014)

Nutrition and Cancer( Fall 2014)

Obesity Metabolism and Disease (Fall 2014)

Physics and the Arts 102 and General Physics 112

( Fall 2014)

General Chemistry II and Physical Chemistry 346

(Fall 2014)

Introduction to Geoscience 252 (Fall 2014)

In 2014–2015, seven faculty from STEM, psychology and the educational studies program developed and implemented interdisciplinary modules in the classroom and labs. A total of 238 students had exposure to the modules in the reporting period. Of the three modules developed, five courses and/or labs were host to the integration of modules in a learning environment.

Table 3. Interdisciplinary Modules Developed, 2014–2015

2014–2015 Module Indicators

Faculty Developers (department)

Modules Integrated into Courses/ or Labs:

No. of Students exposed to Modules

Using Dye-sensitized Solar Cell Module to Learn Photosynthesis

Dr. Shannon Sung (Education Studies Program)

Dr. Derrick Hylton (Physics)

Dr. Michael Burns-Kaurin (Physics)

Dr. Marta McNeese (Physics)

Dr. Yassin Jeilani


PHY 112-Physics for Life Science Lab

ES252-Environmental Science Lab

BIO 120-Cellular Biology Lab

PHY 112 in Spring 2015 66 students

ES252 in Fall 2014

35 students

BIO120 in Fall 2015

123 students

Color Perception Sculpture Installation

Dr. Joseph Bigley

(Art and Art History)

Art 131-01 – Sculpture I

Art 131-01 in Fall 2015

14 students

Spring 2016 Student No. (TBD)

Perceiving Color: An Interdisciplinary Module to Advance Color Awareness in Daily Living

Dr. Jimmeka Guillory (Psychology)

SPSY 375 Cognitive Psychology

SPSY 375 in spring 2016

25 students

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