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UTSA receives $1.5 million to support STEM student success

UTSA receives $1.5 million to support STEM student success

(Sept. 4, 2018) -- UTSA has received a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) Program to improve student success and the diversity of students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The HSI Program seeks to enhance the quality of undergraduate STEM education at HSIs while increasing retention and graduation rates of undergraduate students pursuing degrees in STEM fields at HSIs.

UTSA will use the funding to develop and implement new instructional methods and curricular changes focused on academic literacy, student mentoring, and instructional inquiry and reflection in an effort to transform its undergraduate curriculum and improve the persistence rate of its STEM students.

The university currently awards 1,045 bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields each year. Among those graduates, 52.6 percent identify as Hispanic, African American, American Indian or Alaskan Native.

“The Texas Workforce Commission has estimated that 60,000 new scientists and engineers will be needed to meet workforce needs over the next decade, which means the annual graduation rate of scientists and engineers needs to double,” said UTSA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kimberly Andrews Espy. “At UTSA, we know that there is certain coursework in our STEM curriculum that is especially challenging for many of our students. By addressing this and teaching the curriculum in a new way, we can maintain the rigor of our STEM degree programs while improving retention and graduation rates.”

According to the National Center for Higher Education, only 55.5 percent of U.S. students who pursue a STEM degree will graduate with a STEM degree.

Gateway courses, lower-division courses that students must complete to proceed through their degree programs, are particularly challenging for STEM majors. In Fall 2016, the pass rates for UTSA gateway courses in physics, calculus, chemistry and engineering analysis were 63, 61, 52 and 51 percent, respectively. These pass rates decreased an additional 4.2 percent for Hispanic students majoring in engineering and six percent for Hispanic students majoring in science or math.

To improve undergraduate student persistence from lower-division to upper-division courses, a team of UTSA faculty members from science, engineering, and education and human development will implement six strategies, building on the Language, Literacy and STEM (LA-STEM) Framework. The framework is rooted in the belief that literacy skills support success across all academic disciplines and are a necessity for students learning STEM concepts.

Using the LA-STEM Framework, UTSA aims to:

  • Develop and improve undergraduate STEM students’ integrated understanding of academic literacy and core competencies;
  • Create interdisciplinary professional development lesson study groups of instructors to engage in sustainable instructional and curricular change;
  • Align STEM curricula between lower and upper-division courses;
  • Develop a near-peer mentoring program for sophomore and junior level STEM students;
  • Provide research opportunities and professional development activities for STEM students; and
  • Evaluate the relevance and effectiveness of the institutional curricular redesign.

Additionally, innovative cross-disciplinary partnerships will be established between UTSA STEM and Education and Human Development faculty members to create groups of faculty leaders that promote academic literacy in the development of strong university-level STEM teaching and learning.

“We know that there are certain courses that challenge our students,” said Heather Shipley, vice provost of academic affairs and dean of UTSA’s University College. “By re-developing the way we teach those courses, we will be able to maintain the academic standards of our curriculum while making the curriculum more accessible to our students. We intend to create best practices that will not only help UTSA students succeed but will also serve as a model for other colleges and universities around the country.”

This program will benefit STEM undergraduates at UTSA by increasing their retention rates, critical thinking skills, professional knowledge and self-efficacy. Taken together, this will support timely completion of undergraduate degrees and will increase the marketability and job placement of UTSA graduates.

The grant team will be led by Shipley, Mark Appleford (Biomedical Engineering), Juliet Langman (Bicultural-Bilingual Studies) Kelly Nash (Physics and Astronomy) and Jorge Solis (Bicultural-Bilingual Studies) with support from Krystel Castillo (Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute at UTSA), Harry Millwater (Mechanical Engineering) and Orlando Graves Bolanos (Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning and the DoSeum).

Christi Fish

Learn more about UTSA’s Presidential Initiative on Student Success.

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University of Texas at San Antonio receives ‘transformational’ $40M gift

UTSA’s Mission

The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.

UTSA’s Vision

To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.

UTSA’s Core Values

We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.

UTSA’S Destinations

UTSA is a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) as designated by the U.S. Department of Education .

Our Commitment to Inclusivity

The University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic Serving Institution situated in a global city that has been a crossroads of peoples and cultures for centuries, values diversity and inclusion in all aspects of university life. As an institution expressly founded to advance the education of Mexican Americans and other underserved communities, our university is committed to promoting access for all. UTSA, a premier public research university, fosters academic excellence through a community of dialogue, discovery and innovation that embraces the uniqueness of each voice.