WVU Tech instructors secure $1.6 million in NSF funding to expand STEM education in West Virginia
WVU Tech professors across a variety of disciplines have been awarded more than $1.6 million in funding from the National Science Foundation.
The researchers plan to boost STEM education from K-12 through college across two major projects.
Collegiate STEM support as a science
The first program, “Supporting Undergraduate Scholar Cohorts to Prepare Career-Ready Engineering and Science Graduates,” received $650,000 from the Foundation, and plans to address the nation’s need for skilled scientists, engineers and technicians.
The five-year effort begins next March and will support high-achieving, low-income students at WVU Tech in the electrical engineering, computer engineering, computer science and information systems programs.
The initiative will supply scholarships to selected students, but for the project’s principal investigator Dr. Kenan Hatipoglu, an associate professor of electrical engineering at WVU Tech, it’s about more than simply providing financial support.
“We are happy to secure this award since it is all about Tech and providing scholarships to academically talented, low-income students of Tech. While giving those scholarships to qualified students, we will also study the factors effecting students’ success, retention and graduation,” he said.
To that end, the project will link those scholarships to mentorship from faculty and STEM professionals, encourage cohort-shared living and academic experiences, provide unique undergraduate research experiences and fund a participating student’s attendance at major-specific events and conferences.
Hatipoglu will be joined by four co-principal investigators, including Dr. Stephen Goodman, interim associate dean, professor and chair of the electrical and computer engineering department; Dr. Sanish Rai, assistant professor of computer science and information systems; Dr. Joan Neff, WVU Tech campus provost and professor of criminal justice; and Dr. Yogendra Panta, associate professor of mechanical engineering.
Setting middle schoolers up for SUCCESS
The second project to land an NSF award is “Secure and Upgrade Computer Science in Classrooms through an Ecosystem with Scalability & Sustainability (SUCCESS).”
With NSF funding in the amount of nearly $1 million, SUCCESS will build on an existing outreach partnership with the West Virginia University Center for Excellence in STEM Education, Code.org, the West Virginia Department of Education and the Raleigh County School District to boost access to computer science learning.
Beginning next June, the three-year program will focus on three key factors in middle school computer science education: increased computer science content knowledge for teachers; structures for principals and counselors to support teachers as they expand access; and increased computer science career awareness for teachers, principals, counselors and students.
It will do so by enhancing the current computer science curriculum and professional development for teachers. The program will create a video library and other easily accessible content to help teachers achieve credentials to teach computer science.
That all adds up to what the project’s principal investigator, Dr. Afrin Naz, associate professor of computer science and information systems at WVU Tech, hopes will plant the seed for more homegrown programmers and technicians in the Mountain State.
“More than twenty percent of public-school students in the United States attend schools in rural districts; however, these schools are less likely to offer computer science courses than those in suburban areas, contributing to the access divide and disparities in participation and achievement by socioeconomic status, race and gender,” she said.
“One of the primary reasons why integration of computer science into the K-12 curriculum remains elusive for rural districts is the lack of educators with expertise. We want to see all middle school students in predominantly rural West Virginia have access to high-quality computer science education and an understanding of career opportunities in the field.”
Dr. Naz will be joined in this effort by Dr. Gay Stewart, Eberly Professor of STEM Education at WVU in Morgantown and director of the West Virginia University Center for Excellence in STEM Education; and Dr. Mingyu Lu, WVU Tech professor of electrical engineering.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2020, its budget is $8.3 billion. NSF funds research in all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.