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Researchers Aim to Improve STEM Education Retention at UW

October 19, 2018
Photo of statue near engineering building
Faculty from three UW colleges will be involved in a program that garnered a large NSF grant.

Efforts to improve the quality and effectiveness of undergraduate education netted the University of Wyoming a sizable grant from a national agency.

UW will receive a National Science Foundation award of $649,991 for a project under the direction of Mechanical Engineering Associate Lecturer Kevin Kilty. He will be joined by several university faculty members, including Physics and Astronomy Research Scientist Shawna McBride and School of Teacher Education Associate Professors Kate Welsh and Andrea Burrows.

The project, entitled LIFT (Learning to Integrate Fundamentals through Teaching), will address the issue of losing undergraduate science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors as they progress through their college years. Some of the stumbling blocks include poor instruction, and a lack of authentic applications of fundamental knowledge in a student’s field.

Kilty says many graduating students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are not well prepared to enter the workforce or to effectively communicate their science to the public.

The LIFT project will address the issues through a combination of strategies, including active engagement in authentic scientific projects and learning by teaching through undergraduates as peer tutors and cross-age tutoring. The project will focus on engaging STEM undergraduate students and sophomore and junior STEM education majors, which research has shown to be the time in which students are most likely to leave STEM. The project will target students in engineering, physical science, and pre-service STEM education majors. Students will work in teams to develop citizen science scientific payloads for high-altitude ballooning.

This award began Oct. 1, 2018 and runs through September 2021.

“I thought of it as a way to see if engagement of sophomore and junior STEM students in mentoring K-12 helps them stay in their programs and graduate,” Kilty says.

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