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IUPUI Funds Faculty to Research STEM Ed Innovations

A group of faculty members at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) have received seed grants to undertake research to find innovative techniques for delivering STEM education. Seven projects have been funded in the inaugural STEM Education Innovation and Research Institute (SEIRI) Seed Grant awards, totaling $210,000.

SEIRI serves as a hub for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education innovation as well as research, evaluation and consultation. It runs as an independent unit under the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research in collaboration with four schools: Science; Engineering and Technology; Informatics and Computing; and Education.

The goal of the seed grants was to enable faculty in the STEM programs to develop, implement and evaluate the impact of various instructional innovations across multiple IUPUI STEM courses. The maximum amount available was $30,000 per grant.

According to Pratibha Varma-Nelson, professor of chemistry and SEIRI founding executive director, the grants could also give faculty the jumpstart they need "to be more competitive to receive external funding, such as from the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health."

Among the recipients for the coming academic year are instructors who want to help engineering students understand intellectual property; aid physics students in developing a "computational mindset" when studying that subject; and immerse students in opportunities for "authentic research" to improve retention and encourage students to pursue graduate education or careers in science. (Links to the full list of projects is on the SEIRI website here.)

For that IP study, the principal investigator, Jie Chen, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, will pilot a new concentration in IP using three elective courses as part of an engineering degree. Each course will require "a deep dive into IP concepts in engineering design." At the end of the pilot, students will be prepared to tackle the patent bar exam and to become certified on their way to being able to practice patent law before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

"Graduates will have new career options, including becoming patent engineers and patent agents, in addition to the traditional technical career choices, as well as a solid foundation for continuing to law school and other graduate programs," said Chen in a prepared statement.

Traditionally, physics students take one course — usually optional — in computational methods. The physics-focused pilot will work to include computational modules in every course of the curriculum at IUPUI. Students will also become proficient in the use of MathWorks' MATLAB, a toolbox of software used by scientists and engineers.

"This project will benefit all IUPUI physics students — undergraduate majors and graduate students alike. By deepening the connection between physics and the real world, we may be able to increase the number of students choosing a physics major," said Co-principal Investigator, Yogesh Joglekar, an associate professor in the Department of Physics. "Further, our students will graduate with a set of skills that goes beyond what is typically offered in a physics department and that will greatly benefit them regardless of the career they choose."

For the authentic research project, students will be asked "to think about how to research compelling medical or societal challenges," said principal investigator Kathleen Marrs, an associate professor in the Department of Biology. The initiative will use the "CUREs" framework — "course-based undergraduate research experiences" — which has been championed as a mechanism for providing large numbers of students with access to undergraduate research.

"Ideally, each project will integrate the five dimensions of a CURE: broadly relevant and important work, use of scientific practices, collaboration, iteration in discovery research, and communication of scientific findings," Marrs explained. "In doing so, we expect to see significant gains in IUPUI students' ability to design experiments, analyze data and make scientific presentations, translating into high student satisfaction and enhanced learning."

Her expectation is that the results of the project will encourage a culture in the department that promotes broader adoption of CUREs and other evidence-based instructional practices in biology labs.

The university intends to repeat the grant-making. The next grant solicitation will be in May 2018.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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