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University of North Carolina's Reform Efforts

Reform Efforts

AAU STEM Project Site


The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is creating a support framework to facilitate the implementation of evidence-based teaching practices in large courses that have traditionally been taught by the lecture method. Our principal goals are to

  1. To continue the transition of our large lecture gateway courses in biology, chemistry and physics-astronomy into high-structure, high-engagement learning environments consistent with best practices in science education.
  2. To achieve widespread adoption of evidence based methods among instructors at this level, we are developing and implementing a mentor/apprentice program that facilitates the transfer of effective techniques from mentors (instructors experienced in evidence-based practices) to apprentices (faculty members with less experience in these methods.)

Our plan is to create incentives and reduce barriers to the adoption of techniques that have demonstrated value to both instructors and students. A mentor, a faculty member experienced in high-engagement teaching and an apprentice, and a faculty member with less experience in high structure methods, work together to teach a single course that has already been redesigned. This significantly reduces the time burden on the apprentice of adopting new techniques and redesigning a class and will allow these techniques to be rapidly translated across a diverse group of faculty. New faculty members will encounter a strong support framework that will assist them in the use of evidence-based practices; we project that this will become the norm. As a result, we anticipate that the program described herein will not only be sustainable, and will also grow in scope.


STEM Lecturers for Innovative Teaching of Gateway Courses


Accommodating the growing number of science majors at UNC has required the use of large lecture classes (>200 students) to provide sufficient seats for introductory courses in biology, chemistry, physics, math, and statistics. Since recent research has shown that STEM education can be substantially improved by evidence-based learning assessment methods and improved technology driven learning techniques, the Provost and the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences have provided funding for the hiring of eight STEM lecturers trained in evidence-based teaching methods. These lecturers would lecture introductory STEM courses as well as develop evidence-based learning assessments and technology based platforms for homework and assessment. The STEM lecturers in the Departments of Biology, Chemistry and Physics-Astronomy are also participating in our AAU STEM Project.


Colonel Robinson STEM Scholars 


The focus of the Colonel Robinson STEM Scholars program is to attract top STEM applicants to UNC and supporting them for their four years with programming, mentorship, and financial needs. The program began with the incoming 2012 class. It serves approximately 25-30 incoming first year students who have been identified as honors/merit with a particular focus in STEM. Students receive a full scholarship four years. Additionally, they receive support after their first or second year for a summer science study abroad experience. Another major part to the program is the faculty mentor that is linked to the same cohort of students for their four years. The mentor and cohort meet routinely to work on service projects, go to both science and non-science events, and take social trips and outings together. The desired outcome of the project is to attract and retain the best and brightest students from around the country in STEM. Besides graduating major and career path, we are looking for success in the short term via the number of students involved in: independent research, science outreach in the community, peer-teaching in STEM courses, and science study abroad experiences. Program evaluation data are not available yet.

We’re learning that the first year is essential in forming cohort bonds and faculty-student relationships. The first year includes a weekend trip together with the faculty mentor plus numerous social and science events. Students in the first cohort collaboratively established several science outreach projects by the end of their first year. Thus, we feel establishing social bonds is essential to the cohort’s later success with STEM outreach and academic support of each other. Almost all students still in STEM by the end of their second year are voluntarily engaged in independent research--earlier than when most non-scholarship peers join research labs.

Private donations to the university, through the Scholarships and Students Aid office support this program.


Physics and Biology Partnership for a New Learning Environment


One of the primary instructional responsibilities of any physics department is to teach basic physics to students (often large numbers of them) who pursue majors in the life sciences. However, the course sequence offered to these students is usually not designed to introduce them to physics concepts that are directly relevant to biology, nor does it show how physics can be useful in addressing the complex problems found in living systems. Skills such as quantitative modeling that are integral to physics and increasingly important in biology are rarely fostered, and the instruction is often ineffective. We have therefore undertaken to create an introductory course sequence for life science majors with content and pedagogy designed to improve the students' grasp of physics concepts and their understanding of the concepts' relevance to biology, as well as to improve their ability to apply those concepts to the solution of complex problems. The project has received support from the National Science Foundation via the TUES (Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program.

We have formed a partnership between the Physics & Astronomy and Biology Departments to create a new learning environment incorporating methodology validated by research in science education. We are adopting a "how things work" approach for the courses, in which each unit begins with a biological "driving question" and incorporates the physics concepts necessary to understand it. By using the Lecture/Studio model we maximize the instructional time in which the students are interactively engaged with the ideas and phenomena under study, within the boundary conditions of large enrollments. We are training instructors in how to teach in this environment, and will extensive formative and summative assessment to improve and validate their efforts. We are developing a body of instructional materials for hands-on activities, use of computer simulations, and cooperative group problem solving for each unit of the course as well as readings and homework exercises that elucidate the connections between the physics and the biology.

In partnership with the activities undertaken as a project site for the AAU STEM Education Initiative, we have created a learning community of instructors that reaches across departments, in which participants will advance their knowledge of best practices in introductory science teaching according to discipline-based research. In addition to increasing their use of these practices, it is anticipated that the collaboration between physicists and biologists will increase the degree to which biology faculty members see the physics implications in their teaching of more advanced courses (and vice versa).

Finally, in order to foster significant, systemic change in other physics and biology departments, we plan to disseminate the instructional materials widely and encourage other physics departments to undertake a similar transformation.


Chancellor's Science Scholars at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


A partnership between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Maryland Baltimore County with one year of support from HHMI is an experiment that has been designed to capitalize on the striking and sustained success of the Meyerhoff Program at UMBC. We intend to adapt overarching strategies from the Meyerhoff Program to our large flagship public research university. Our goal for the new Chancellor's Science Scholars Program is to produce a dramatic increase in the number of high achieving under-represented undergraduate students in science that attain advanced STEM degrees. Our experience at UNC-CH as we build a robust STEM pipeline for high-achieving students from diverse backgrounds who are interested pursuing advanced degrees and obtaining leadership positions in the biomedical sciences may provide a helpful framework for building robust programs for increasing PhD attainment for minority scientists.

The Meyerhoff Scholars Program at UMBC is a strengths-based program that has produced more African American STEM PhDs at a higher "yield" than any other majority-serving university in the nation. In addition to the production of minority scientists, the Meyerhoff Scholars Program has produced multiple positive impacts at UMBC, particularly in STEM areas. The Meyerhoff Program has been at the center of the transformations in teaching introductory science courses, and as a positive collateral outcome the attitudes and expectations of the UMBC faculty have been dramatically elevated with respect to student achievement.

This Chancellor's Science Scholars project at UNC is an experiment to determine whether similar results can be obtained at a large public research university by adopting and adapting the essential elements of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program. We plan to identify institutional barriers to success and to chart general strategies to overcome those barriers. We intend to continually assess student progress and to thoroughly document both our efforts and our outcomes.

By providing (a) an intensive pre-matriculation summer bridge to facilitate high academic achievement at the college level, (b) an early introduction to research, (c) mentoring and advising, and (d) inclusion in a scholarly community, we anticipate that this program will lead to a significant increase in the number high-achieving underrepresented minority students that pursue STEM graduate degrees and to an overall cultural change in the way science is taught and perceived at UNC-CH.


Science and Math Achievement and Resourcefulness Track (SMART)  


The NSF funded SMART programs support students in real science experiences and help them gain access to research labs and mentors. The programs also give students practice with scientific communication and prepare them for graduate school in STEM.

There are two complimentary programs that target two of the most underrepresented populations in research. The first is geared towards under-represented minorities (rising sophomores) and the second enrolls students who transferred to UNC as juniors mainly from community colleges. The overall goals are to increase the number of underrepresented minority students who earn degrees in STEM disciplines, pursue graduate study, and become faculty and/or researchers in their chosen field.

Selected students spend nine weeks during the summer doing 30 hours of research per week with a faculty advisor and a grad student/postdoc co-mentor in STEM labs. Students may also enroll in one course. The students meet as a group on a weekly basis with the program director to discuss primary scientific literature and present their research to their peers. They also visit research institutes to learn about post-college research opportunities and the STEM job market. Finally, the students present their research project during a final research poster symposium attended by students and research faculty. We have learned that these methods are quite effective when implemented in our regular research-related classes, and thus, the program has had spill-over effect to the curriculum.

We've learned that setting high expectations for these competitive students, together with strong academic support, allows them to reach their potential and passions. We have used our experience gained from the SMART program to additional STEM-related programs that promote the success of under-represented and underprivileged students (e.g. Chancellor’s program).

This program is conducted in partnership with North Carolina A & T University, the lead campus in the North Carolina Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, (NC-LSAMP) Phase IV.