Thursday, November 13, 2008

UGA Opens Office to Support Science, Math and Engineering Education in Georgia

Experts have for some years worried that a national shortage of scientists, mathematicians and engineers has jeopardized the competitive edge the United States must have in an increasingly technological world. To address this need, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents launched an initiative called Math + Science = Success.

The new program aims to increase the number of students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and the number of teachers prepared to teach these subjects in grades K-12.

Now, as part of this initiative, the University of Georgia has opened a new “one-stop” source of information for higher education faculty, teachers and students interested in making Georgia stronger in science, math and engineering.

Called the Office of STEM Education (for “science, technology, engineering and mathematics”), the facility will promote a broad range of activities to strengthen teaching and learning in these subjects, according to the director of the office, Charles Kutal, associate dean of UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Co-directors are Thomas Koballa, a professor in the College of Education, and Dava Coleman, a high school chemistry teacher in Jackson County. Program coordinator for the office is Nancy Vandergrift.

“The new office is a clearinghouse for anyone interested in STEM education on this campus,” Kutal said. “We can provide assistance to anyone seeking a collaborator within UGA, another University System institution or in a local K-12 school. Our Web site will provide information about ongoing projects and potential funding sources. Our goal is to assist people who have an interest but don’t know where to start.”

The UGA Office of STEM Education, which is located in Aderhold Hall on the UGA campus, is administratively under the Office of the Vice President for Instruction.

“This office aligns with our mission, as the flagship university, to meet the state’s responsibility for nurturing research and economic development through the preparation of more teachers in areas of critical need,” said Jere Morehead, vice president for instruction and Meigs Professor of Legal Studies.

The new STEM office builds upon the successes of the PRISM (Partnership for Reform in Science and Mathematics) project, a USG initiative designed to increase science and mathematics achievement for all K-12 students in order to improve their readiness for post-secondary education and careers by enhancing teacher quality, raising expectations for all stakeholders and closing student achievement gaps.

Awarded to the University System of Georgia in 2003, the initiative was funded by a five-year, $34.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and was funded through the school year of 2008. The NSF recently funded Phase II of PRISM with a new three-year grant of just over $2 million.

PRISM is working actively in four regions of the state, metropolitan Atlanta, northeast Georgia, east central Georgia and southeast Georgia, with partners at the university and public school level in each region.

Kutal said that one of the reasons the PRISM program has been successful is that it “addresses a whole spectrum of issues in K-16 STEM education.” With reports that the United States is falling behind Asian and European countries in these areas of education, he said the stakes are high.

“It’s crucial to the future of the country that all U.S. students are well prepared in STEM,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to continue the efforts that are already beginning to show gains in student interest and performance in these subjects.”

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