University Of Evansville CISM Project Receives $1 Million Grant for Scholarships from the NSF S-STEM Program
The University of Evansville’s Computers in Science and Math (CISM) project has been awarded a grant totaling $999,934 to fund scholarships for academically talented students with financial need majoring in biochemistry, biology, chemistry, environmental science, mathematics, physics, or statistics and data science.
The project, funded by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) program, is led by UE faculty members Joyce Stamm, professor of biology; Angela Reisetter, associate professor of physics; Adam Salminen, associate professor of mathematics; and Sarah Wilson, assistant professor of chemistry.
The CISM scholarships will be available beginning in the fall 2020 semester and will provide up to $10,000 per year for four years to two cohorts of seven or eight students. These students will be part of an interdisciplinary learning community established through an all-expenses-paid bridge course during the summer before the freshman year and maintained as the students live together in UE’s honors residence hall and enroll together in computational problem-solving courses. CISM students will also receive summer research and conference attendance funds, and CISM-specific academic advising, career preparation, and mentoring.
“This interdisciplinary cohort approach will prepare our students for a real work setting, where biologists and mathematicians may work alongside chemists and physicists toward a common goal,” said Stamm. “The interpersonal skills developed from living and working together are just as, if not more, important than the technical skills gained through coursework. It allows them to learn to speak the same language.”
Reisetter added, “Computational problem-solving skills are not currently emphasized in UE’s math and science curriculum, so we’re particularly excited to develop additional talents in our students, which will translate into broader career opportunities and workplace success upon graduation.”
To develop these skills, the project will introduce a scaffolded curriculum with four interdisciplinary computational problem-solving courses. The first three courses will focus on the power of computational and data visualization skills in the sciences, and introduce students to interesting data-centric scientific projects. The fourth course will be part of the UE ChangeLab program and will pair student and faculty teams with a local business or nonprofit clients. Students will work with the clients to solve a problem involving experimental design, data collection, and/or data analysis. Because these courses will be open to all math and science majors at UE, the CISM project will have an impact beyond the scholarship recipients
“The digital revolution has allowed scientists and businesses to collect vast quantities of data,” said Salminen. “Marketing firms, educators, and sports teams have gleaned knowledge and insights from this data for application to business techniques for many years. Of particular importance here is the growing need of these skills in the sciences.”
Data scientists and statisticians work to develop new statistical approaches and develop new software and techniques of analysis. However, a scientist in other areas such as genomics, particle physics, and neuroscience need to use these techniques to unravel the massive amounts of data that they collect. Moving forward, scientists will need to have a better understanding of working with large data, and statisticians and mathematicians, with proper training and interest, can help tackle difficult problems throughout the sciences.
In line with the NSF’s mission to improve STEM undergraduate education, another important goal of the project is to determine the impacts of the learning community on CISM scholars.
“We will assess each of the project’s activities using a mixed-methods approach, to examine how involvement in the CISM community affects students’ science and mathematics self-efficacy, sense of community, retention, success, and progression to STEM careers,” said Wilson. “We hope that the CISM project will serve as a model for interdisciplinary STEM education at institutions similar to UE.”