FIU has received a $1.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to develop strategies that will improve successful completion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees.

The grant is part of HHMI’s initiative to improve how science is taught by enabling schools to focus on significant and sustained improvement in retaining STEM students. Based on the recommendations presented in the Engage to Excel report issued by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) in 2012, HHMI issued a challenge to research universities to develop programs that would improve the learning experience for STEM students of all backgrounds.

“Our nation’s research universities are absolutely critical to sustaining our scientific excellence,” said HHMI President Robert Tjian. “Simply put, we are challenging these universities to focus their attention on the improving science education so that a greater number of talented students remain in science.”

Under the grant, FIU’s program will focus on major reform of introductory STEM courses – also known as gateway or gatekeeper courses. According to research, about 60 percent of all undergraduates who intend to major in STEM disciplines do not complete their degrees. For students from unrepresented minorities, the number jumps to 80 percent. In many cases, attrition occurs in the first two years of college when students are taking introductory courses in chemistry, math and biology.

Modeling physics at FIU

FIU’s project will transform practices in introductory science and mathematics courses that are vital to the success of students in all of the STEM fields. Professors will implement evidence-based teaching practices including active learning and inquiry-based experiences for students.

“Our HHMI project will establish a culture of best teaching practices across the science and mathematics areas,” said Laird Kramer, director of the FIU STEM Transformation Institute. “This means that professors will incorporate active learning in their courses, where students engage in activities during class instead of learning by themselves at two in the morning. Students are the real winners in this project, as they will experience the best learning opportunities, so they can earn their degree and go on to a productive STEM career.”

FIU is one of 37 institutions selected after three rounds of peer review from among 170 applications to receive part of the grant totaling $60 million over five years. In addition to major reform of introductory STEM courses, the HHMI grants will support student learning and faculty development communities, opportunities to engage in research, and the implementation of the Freshman Research Initiatives program providing students with opportunities to publish their work.

Since 1988, HHMI has awarded more than $935 million in grants to 274 public and private colleges and universities to support science education in the United States by encouraging science teaching that is hands-on, research-oriented and interdisciplinary. HHMI support has enabled more than 92,000 students nationwide to work in research labs and developed programs that have helped 109,000 K-12 teachers learn how to teach science more effectively.

Story originally published on FIU News:

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The Florida International University Foundation, Inc. (FIU Foundation) was established in 1969 to encourage, solicit, receive and administer gifts for scientific, educational and charitable purposes for the advancement of Florida International University and its objectives. (more +)

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