Research News

Great Lakes commits $7.2M to back UW initiatives to increase STEM graduates

October 14, 2014

Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation and Affiliates has committed $7.2 million to assist two UW-Madison initiatives in helping  disadvantaged students complete degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and pursue careers in these in-demand fields.

The Madison-based Great Lakes announced it will grant $3.2 million to the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) and $4 million to hundreds of Wisconsin college students who will take part in an experimental study conducted by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab. In addition, Great Lakes also granted $1.875 million in scholarships to low-income STEM students nationwide — including students across the UW System.

“This support from Great Lakes will allow these innovative initiatives to extend their reach to students in Wisconsin and beyond," states Sarah Mangelsdorf, UW-Madison provost. "Today we can look forward to the day coming when students of color, women, low-income and first generation college students are not only typical but among our highest achieving STEM graduates.”

Both CIRTL and the HOPE Lab were founded and are based within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, part of UW-Madison’s School of Education.

“We are proud of the important work of CIRTL and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab,” states Julie Underwood, dean of the UW-Madison School of Education.  “And, we are very grateful to Great Lakes for their generosity and support for U.S. higher education.”

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the number of new jobs in STEM-related fields is projected to increase 1.7 times faster than other industries. Yet fewer than 40 percent of students who enter college with the intention of majoring in a STEM field actually complete a STEM degree. This loss is particularly acute for female, minority, first-generation and low-income students.

“STEM drives our nation’s innovation and competiveness, and we’re concerned that the United States is falling behind in producing college graduates with degrees in these essential disciplines,” says Richard D. George, Great Lakes president and chief executive officer.

Great Lakes’ funding of CIRTL will help train aspiring STEM faculty members to use teaching strategies that promote active learning, connect classroom topics to real-world situations, promote inclusive learning, encourage teamwork and continually assess student progress. CIRTL is a network of 22 universities, originated with National Science Foundation funding, that works to improve the way future and current college faculty teach STEM subjects to diverse learners through proven educational techniques.

“Sadly, often ineffective teaching is the main reason talented students leave STEM majors,” states Robert D. Mathieu, a UW-Madison astronomy professor who directs CIRTL and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.

“The unfortunate reality is that most new STEM faculty devote their graduate training to research, and the first time they may be in front of a classroom is after they have accepted a teaching position.”

However, training can be targeted effectively at future STEM faculty because nearly 80 percent of U.S. doctorate degrees in these subjects are granted by just 100 research universities.

“CIRTL Network universities currently graduate about 20 percent of the nation’s new STEM faculty each year,” said George. “Our intention through investments like this is to take ideas that work to scale. We hope the 80 remaining research universities will adopt the successful CIRTL model.”

Great Lakes’ grant to CIRTL will support programming at each university in the network, as well as cross-network sharing of best practices in future faculty development. Funding begins fall 2014 and will continue through spring 2017.

“This funding provides the resources to develop a national STEM faculty committed to implementing and advancing effective teaching practices for diverse students,” says Mathieu. “These future faculty are the key to improving STEM learning and persistence of all undergraduates.”

The Wisconsin HOPE Lab, founded by UW-Madison Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab, was launched in 2013 with a five-year $2.5 million grant from Great Lakes. It is the nation’s first lab dedicated to applied educational research aimed at discovering new and effective ways to improve college completion among low-income students. 

Great Lakes is committing $4 million in grants to hundreds of students at 10 colleges and universities across Wisconsin. They will receive $1,000 per year for up to five years as part of an experimental study beginning this fall being conducted by Goldrick-Rab at the Wisconsin HOPE Lab.

The research study, funded by the National Science Foundation, will determine if this need-based financial aid helps undergraduates stay enrolled in college and successfully complete two- or four-year degrees, particularly in STEM fields.

“Policymakers and practitioners need to know how and why grant aid contributes to critical workforce needs, such as those in STEM fields,” states Goldrick-Rab, a professor of educational policy studies and sociology. “Thanks to the support from Great Lakes, the HOPE Lab has the opportunity to generate rigorous empirical evidence to provide that information while also supporting students across the state.”