STEM

U North Carolina Launches Creating Scientists Program

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has launched a five-year project for undergraduate students to give them more hands-on research and collaborative learning opportunities involving "real-world" problems. The new initiative, "Creating Scientists: Learning by Connecting, Doing and Making," is the primary major theme in the institution's "quality enhancement plan" (QEP) for accreditation.

The plan won't be only for science majors, said Kelly Hogan, director of the QEP. Courses will integrate sciences with arts and humanities in a "pan-university" effort. College faculty have been invited to propose interdisciplinary first-year seminar courses in which at least one faculty member is in the natural or social sciences and another is from the arts or humanities.

"The boundaries between the natural and social sciences and the arts and humanities are artificial, and many of today's challenges demand integrated perspectives and approaches," said Kevin Guskiewicz, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, in a memo to instructors.

The university also intends to introduce new campus makerspaces, expand research experiences for students and offer a course that introduces undergraduates to research related to a specific problem. CURE classes, as they're called (for "Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience"), have already been piloted at the institution. One example is a "seafood forensics" course in which students test seafood samples to verify the accuracy of the food labels. From there, the school said, students "investigate the implications of mislabeling on ecosystems, policy and human health."

Undergraduate science was chosen as the university's focus for several reasons. The school has seen a 60 percent increase in science major intentions or declarations since 2004. Even so, women, minorities and first-generation students continue to be underrepresented in the sciences. And transfer students continue having difficulty completing science coursework in time to graduate within four years.

"The process of science is non-linear, non-prescriptive and sometimes messy," said Hogan in a university article about the project. Hogan is also assistant dean of instructional innovation in the College of Arts & Sciences and a senior STEM lecturer in biology. "This QEP will implement educational innovations that align more closely with contemporary models of teaching and learning science — the interconnections between how ideas arise and then are tested, the feedback from scientific community and the needs of society."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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