Columbus State University Starting New STEM Program In Hopes of Addressing Local Poverty Issues

COLUMBUS, Ga. --- A $133,000 grant from the University System of Georgia (USG) is helping Columbus State University implement improved classroom strategies to better prepare students in their pursuit of STEM careers.

This is the fourth STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) grant awarded to CSU since 2011, bringing total funding to more than $3.1 million for STEM education.

The overarching goal of the latest grant -- CSU’s STEM Education Improvement Plan -- is to raise the region’s standard of living through education. This goal aligns closely with the goals of the Columbus Regional Prosperity Initiative, a holistic community and economic development strategy led by a group of area public, private and non-profit leaders.

According to a competitive assessment sponsored by the Regional Prosperity Initiative, nearly 60 percent of households in Greater Columbus have annual incomes below $50,000, and the region’s median household income was lower than all three comparison regions, the state and the nation. Thirty percent of children live below the poverty line, and the region’s elevated poverty rates pre-date the Great Recession.

STEM Education

“We must raise our children out of poverty,” said Tom Hackett, professor and executive director K-12 partnerships and principal investigator of the grant program. “It starts early, and it starts with education. That is why we are partnering with Muscogee County School District as part of this plan. CSU is committed to STEM as a growth and economic strategy for Columbus.”

“Together with our other established STEM education programs, CSU is providing one unified effort to assist in improving STEM in the Columbus area,” said Hackett. CSU’s Robert Noyce Scholarship program was funded by a $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant, UTeach Columbus from a $1.4 million U.S. Department of Education grant, and CSU received a $400,000 matching grant to establish the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship program.

The new three-year plan supports the USG’s STEM Initiative to produce more STEM graduates in the next decade in order for the United States to remain a viable innovative and economic competitor internationally. According to the February 2012 PCAST (President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology) Report, Engage to Excel, less than 40 percent of all undergraduate students who intend to major in STEM fields actually receive degrees in STEM fields.

By aiding faculty in delivering top classroom strategies, CSU’s plan will prepare students for careers in high-demand STEM fields.

“This grant will help shore up our teaching programs, starting in STEM,” said Hackett.

Funding provided by the grant will be used to award mini-grants to faculty for travel to conferences or workshops to learn about new techniques to bring back to the university. The plan also will fund course releases to faculty for time spent restructuring their courses. In restructured courses, students are often responsible for posing and solving their own questions or real-world scenarios within the context of their lessons, a strategy designed to increase student engagement and improve learning outcomes that are also applicable on the job.

Information on restructuring classrooms and other innovative delivery methods are part of a curriculum that Master Teachers from CSU’s UTeach program plan to share with their counterparts in K-12 through the grant program.

“We intend to apply resources at CSU to support an array of opportunities in K-12 classrooms in our region,” said Hackett.

Master Teachers will guide after-school workshops for local teachers. A database of lesson plans also will be provided to help teachers successfully implement new student-focused approaches in their classrooms well beyond the conclusion of the grant program.

CSU already has seen success in performance and retention among students majoring in STEM by providing free tutoring services for core level STEM courses and installing cohorts of peer education leaders.

Hackett hopes to see this trend continue as CSU implements further course changes based on best practices and innovative teaching practices cultivated through the new plan.

“The culture of innovation at CSU is poised to become even stronger,” he said, pointing to several recent examples:

-- Last year, TSYS, a leading global payments provider, contributed $2.5 million to establish the TSYS Cybersecurity Center for Financial Services to be housed in the Turner College of Business’ TSYS School of Computer Science. The TSYS Cybersecurity Center for Financial Services Endowment will supplement salaries to attract nationally recognized faculty, fund new research assistantships and student scholarships, support faculty and student travel, and finance special projects and initiatives.


-- Final construction and design plans are being developed for a new laboratory sciences building adjacent to LeNoir Hall. The $11 million project will provide much-needed lab space for science classes and faculty and student research.


The Faculty Institute, CSU’s formalized, faculty-centered approach for promoting lifelong learning amongst faculty, will use a portion of grant funding to bring in outside experts to CSU to facilitate further discussion about innovative teaching practices.

“By encouraging open collaboration and discussion, the Faculty Institute will help engender a culture of excellent and reflective teaching among our faculty in support of student learning,” said Hackett.

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