Great Lakes Higher Education funds initiatives at UW-Madison to diversify STEM fields

Initiatives to improve diversity in science, technology, education and mathematics  (STEM) at UW-Madison will get a multi-million dollar boost from Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation.

Despite the rapidly growing number of jobs in STEM fields, fewer than 40 percent of students who enter college for those studies complete a STEM degree, Great Lakes said in a statement.

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

Great Lakes’ investment announced Tuesday is in three initiatives:

  • $3.2 million to help train future STEM faculty to be better teachers.
  • $4 million to support academic research on the role of financial aid in STEM.
  • $1.857 million in scholarships to low-income students majoring in STEM disciplines.

The grants will supplement  National Science Foundation funds in developing a national STEM faculty to advance effective teaching practices for diverse students with greater emphasis on active learning, real world situations and more progress assessment.  se practices enhance learning and retention for all students and preferentially students who are underrepresented in STEM, said Robert Mathieu, an astronomy professor and director of the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL).

“Our goal is to produce faculty who are both great researchers and great teachers,” he said of the CIRTL national network of 22 universities.

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Sara Goldrick-Rab, founding director of the HOPE Lab at UW-Madison, will lead research on the role of financial aid in helping students complete STEM degrees.

Getting a degree in a STEM field is not easy, Goldrick-Rab said.

“It involves a sincere and deep time commitment that many students have to undertake and that means it’s hard for them to do things other students do, such as work,” she said. “For those who are struggling economically, the choice is often STEM or being financially stable. We want to know whether it might be possible to make strides in increasing the number of STEM grads in the state by ensuring they have sufficient resources — through grants — so that they can focus on school without trading off these other important factors in their lives.”