College of Science

STEM teacher training program gets $150K boost from NSF

UT Arlington has received a significant financial boost in its effort to prepare students to become university teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The University’s Organizational Network for Teaching as Research Advancement and Collaboration (ON-TRAC) program has received a three-year, $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to help in its mission of building a national faculty in STEM committed to enhancing undergraduate STEM education.

ON-TRAC is a member of the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL), a network of 22 national research institutions committed to helping STEM graduate and postdoctoral students develop effective teaching strategies for diverse learners. ON-TRAC’s $150,000 grant came from a $5 million NSF grant to CIRTL, which the 22 member institutions share.

Kevin Schug, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and the Shimadzu Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry, is principal investigator (PI) for the ON-TRAC program. He said the grant will fund half of the University’s ON-TRAC costs for the next three years. The other half will come from the Colleges of Science, Engineering, Education and Health Professions, and the Offices of the Provost, Research, and Graduate Studies.

“This is a terrific resource for students who are thinking about going into STEM teaching,” Schug said. “We want to get faculty more involved and make students more aware of the program. It’s a very forward-thinking program and a great opportunity for our graduate students. Our University is invested in the program’s success, so we should all be looking for ways to benefit from the resources it offers.”

The program has three core ideals: 1) teaching as research - this concept involves the deliberate, systematic, and reflective use of research methods to develop and implement teaching practices that advance the learning experiences and outcomes of students and teachers; 2) learning through diversity - effective teaching requires commitment to creating equitable learning experiences and environments that promote the success of diverse learners; 3) learning community - development of a learning community is fostered by shared discovery and learning where participants learn collaboratively and come together to achieve learning goals, rather than relying on traditional “expert centered” lecture formats. These communities support and validate growth in teaching and learning.

ON-TRAC will help build better instructors for higher education, but the overriding goal extends beyond the college classroom. Ultimately, the center intends to improve science, technology, engineering and math education for students nationwide, increase diversity in those fields and the STEM literacy of the nation.

The ON-TRAC leadership team also includes co-PI Raymond “Joe” Jackson, associate dean in the Office of Graduate Studies; coordinator Lisa Berry,
coordinator of Retention and Completion in the Office of Graduate Studies; Ann Cavallo, professor of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education and Health Professions; James Epperson, associate professor of Mathematics; Lynn Peterson, senior associate dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Engineering; Pranesh Aswath, professor and associate dean for Graduate Affairs in the College of Engineering; Phil Cohen, vice provost for Academic Affairs and professor of English; and David Silva, vice provost for faculty affairs and professor of Linguistics.

“When I graduated, I had limited training to take on the classroom challenge,” Schug said. “You do plenty of research when you’re studying for your Ph.D. You are adept at that, but not necessarily at stepping into a classroom with prepared lesson plans, answering questions and all that comes with that experience.”

CIRTL was originally funded through a multi-million dollar NSF grant to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2007. Howard University, Michigan State University, University of Colorado-Boulder, Texas A&M University and Vanderbilt University joined the effort in a second phase. After a competitive application process, 16 additional universities - ncluding UT Arlington - were invited to join these “core institutional members” in an expanded CIRTL Network and seek additional NSF funding.

The center aims to provide doctoral students with better tools to teach students in STEM fields. The network of schools share teaching methods, success stories and key techniques to better prepare those graduate students with the skills needed to be successful teachers in the classroom.

Cohen said participating in the nationwide consortium will “help us improve not only the teaching abilities of the future STEM faculty our doctoral programs produce but also our undergraduate STEM education programs.

“What people don’t realize is that 80 percent of all the professors in higher education come from the top 100 STEM Ph.D.-producing universities,” Cohen said. “We need to teach those Ph.D. students the best practices in the classroom.”

More information is available at the ON-TRAC website, http://grad.pci.uta.edu/programs/ontrac/ and at the CIRTL website, www.cirtl.net. Students and faculty can join the email listserve by contacting Berry at lberry@uta.edu and can like the Facebook page (On-Trac at UT Arlington) to stay informed of the latest local and network offerings.

Posted October 15, 2013