Columbus State receives grant to boost STEM education

Columbus State University plans to use a $133,000 grant to better prepare students for STEM careers.

The grant from the University System of Georgia will pay for faculty to attend conferences and learn new teaching techniques in the STEM subjects of science, technology, math and engineering. The grant also will pay for part-time faculty to cover classes while full-time faculty restructure their courses to increase student engagement and real-world scenarios applicable in the workforce, CSU announced in a news release.

Asked why the full-time professors can’t restructure their courses outside of class time, CSU communications specialist Christa Robbins explained in an email to the Ledger-Enquirer, “It takes a lot of time and effort on the part of the faculty member to redesign a course and to develop new techniques to teach the course, so much so that it would be difficult to teach a full load without a course release. The releases provide an opportunity to improve future classroom experiences without interrupting regular course schedules.”

This is the fourth STEM grant CSU has received in the past five years, totaling more than $3.1 million, to boost this crucial component of the local economy. In fact, the university’s STEM Education Improvement Plan is aligned with the goals of the Regional Prosperity Initiative, a group of public, private and nonprofit leaders seeking to strengthen the Columbus area’s economic competitiveness.

“We must raise our children out of poverty,” Tom Hackett, CSU’s executive director of K-12 partnerships and principal investigator of the grant program, said in the release. “It starts early, and it starts with education. That is why we are partnering with the Muscogee County School District as part of this plan. CSU is committed to STEM as a growth and economic strategy for Columbus.”

Nearly 60 percent of Greater Columbus households have annual incomes less than $50,000, and 30 percent of the children live in poverty, according to the assessment sponsored by the Regional Prosperity Initiative and quoted in CSU’s news release.

The partnership with MCSD will include master teachers from CSU’s UTeach Columbus program guiding local K-12 teachers in after-school workshops and providing lesson plans through a shared database. A portion of the grant funding will enable CSU’s Faculty Institute, which promotes lifelong learning among its professors, to bring innovative teaching experts to campus.

In addition to the $133,000 from USG, the other STEM grants CSU has received since 2011 are:

▪  $1.4 million from the U.S. Department of Education for UTeach Columbus, which helps students become qualified to teach math or science classes in middle schools or high schools.

▪  $1.2 million from the National Science Foundation for the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program to help CSU reach the goal of quadrupling the number of secondary education math and science teachers in the region from spring 2012 to spring 2017.

▪  $400,000 from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation to develop a model master’s-level teacher preparation program, comprising yearlong experience in local classrooms.