Committee prepares for launch of Undergraduate STEM Academy

GW kicked off a search for the director of a new research center that will focus on how faculty teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses to undergraduates.

The Undergraduate STEM Academy will link professors from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Graduate School of Education and Human Development. It will first look at how STEM courses are taught and could eventually share its findings with other universities.

Provost Steven Lerman said a STEM education center would bring together faculty who are already interested in the topic, and that more than 20 professors attended an initial interest meeting. Professors have met throughout the past year to discuss what the center might look like, but Lerman said a director would help round out its mission.

“We are looking for someone to be a senior academic leader who can bring their own sense of where to go with the STEM Academy but also draw in more faculty and work collaboratively with them,” Lerman said.

He did not specify a timeline for the search during an interview, but the online job posting states the proposed start date as July 1. The posting also states that application reviews began April 1.

The director will play a role in shaping the center’s mission, Lerman said. In addition to examining how to teach STEM courses, the center could encourage more GW students to become STEM teachers.

Only 16 percent of high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a career in a STEM field, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

GSEHD also received more than $1 million from the National Math and Science Initiative last month to start a program that would train future STEM teachers.

The strategic plan calls for spending between $2 million and $4 million to create the STEM Academy, funded by provost re-allocations, the Innovation Task Force and foundation support. The strategic plan, which was approved in 2013, also outlines ideas like global expansion and hiring 100 new faculty members.

The 10-year plan sets the expectation for GW to launch cross-disciplinary research centers focusing on areas such as cancer, autism, global women’s studies and cybersecurity.

Lerman said a center focused on STEM teaching could allow the University to influence education policy, which would help its findings reach other institutions.

“We’re in an important geographical location to influence policy, but I think to do that, we need to practice what we preach, so we need to innovate at GW, understand if that works, and then have a solid approval basis for arguing those approaches would be effective elsewhere,” Lerman said.

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