Today@Sam Article

SHSU Receives National Science Foundation Award

Aug. 8, 2017
SHSU Media Contact: Lane Fortenberry


The National Science Foundation has awarded Sam Houston State University an intended total amount of more than $2 million to support the project entitled, “A Comprehensive Model for Improving the Success of STEM Majors through the STEM Center.”

The project, which the award will begin aiding on Sept. 1, is under the direction of Brian Loft, faculty administrative fellow. The project aims to increase the number of STEM graduates, as well as the quality of these graduates.

“This award is very important,” he said. “Our faculty, instructors and graduate students are always devoted to students learning more and learning better, but it usually takes a lot of time and resources to change the way we teach our classes.

“This grant will establish a STEM Center, which there really hasn’t been one before,” he said. “We’ve done small projects in the past, but nothing this big and comprehensive.”

In order to accomplish that goal, Loft, along with the rest of his team, Taylor Martin, assistant professor of mathematics; David Thompson, assistant professor of chemistry; Faruk Yildiz, associate professor of engineering technology; and Donna Artho, assistant vice president for institutional effectiveness, have identified three different objectives.

The first goal is to better prepare students before they start their freshman math and science classes. 

“We’ve identified a set of courses that are very difficult for students, those being general chemistry I and II, pre-calculus and calculus,” Loft said. “We’re going to design what might be called a summer bridge program, freely available to students two or three weeks before classes start. Students can come in and learn math and chemistry before classes start, along with some professional development, like study skills, notetaking and how to do well on exams. That way, they’re set up to get an A or B in those classes.”

The second goal is to implement a new way of teaching math and science classes, rather than using the traditional way. 

“We’re going to educate and train our faculty to use what’s known as best practices and active learning,” he said. “There are teaching techniques that have been shown to work for science students better than traditionally taught courses, and in particular, for underprepared students. We should be using them.”

In math, for example, there won’t be a textbook, but rather a list of problems and sequences for students to solve. They will work on the solutions on their own and attend class to discuss and present the things they’ve learned outside of class. 

“The job of the instructor, most of the time, is to sit in the back of the room and watch what the students present and guide the discussion,” he said. “If a student gets stuck at the board, then it’s the job of the other students to ask the right questions. If those right questions don’t come, then it’s the job of the instructor to make sure they get asked. If the presenter doesn’t do a good job of presenting to the class and the class doesn’t understand, then it’s the job of the instructor to ask the right questions for the presenter to better transmit the information to the students.”

Loft said this new style of learning is difficult for students to get used to at first, because it expects a lot from the students. 

“The point of this grant is to take this teaching method and adapt it to biology, computer science, engineering technology, and chemistry,” he said. “The goal of the instructor is to have the students discover the material on their own. When you figure something out on your own, you own it, and you know it much better than if you’re just told something. 

“I have years of experience teaching this way, so I’m going to use it this fall, but it will really start next fall,” he said. “There are other faculty that haven’t used this, so we’re going to train them. It’s really going to change the way we teach our classes.”

The third goal is to provide students with resources for undergraduate research. 

“We’ll get them in a lab to get hands-on experience,” he said. “Hopefully students are ready for their freshman-level classes and do well; they’re learning the material in a way that’s better than traditionally taught classes; and they have hands-on experience and are ready to get a job.” 

“Sam Houston State University’s success in STEM education has been noticed and rewarded,” said U.S. Congressman Kevin Brady, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “The more than $2 million National Science Foundation award acknowledges SHSU’s commitment to undergraduate research and ongoing efforts to help students obtain the necessary tools to succeed in math, science and technology based careers.” 

The summer program is set to begin in the summer of 2018, and the new classes and undergraduate research program will begin in the fall of 2018. 

The National Science Foundation supports research, innovation and discovery that provides the foundation for economic growth in the United States. 

For more information about the NSF, award or to read the abstract, visit the site.

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