Generating Enthusiasm for Math and Science (GEMS) at the University of West
To increase the number of students seeking and receiving baccalaureate degrees
in established or emerging fields in science, technology, engineering and mathematics
(STEM) at the University of West Georgia.
Objectives of GEMS initiative:
Enlarge the talent pool of STEM majors by recruiting more students of both sexes
and of all ethnic backgrounds.
Generate enthusiasm for math and science (GEMS) in selected first year students
who have not chosen a major.
Provide enhanced academic and career advising, as well as mentoring by STEM
Reduce the attrition of all undergraduate STEM majors.
Improve all students’ success in key mathematics and introductory science
courses, which can act as barriers to success in the STEM disciplines.
Enhance first year-science and math courses.
Support a summer research experience that will induct students into the scientific
community, greatly influence their major selection and generate interest in
Provide opportunities for STEM students to serve as teaching assistants early in
This program is designed to recruit undecided UWG students who display an
aptitude for math and science to major in STEM disciplines, and to ease the transition
from high school to college for these entering students. GEMS also intends to increase
retention of first-year STEM students. This program seeks to stimulate students’ interest
in STEM, to lessen math anxiety, to provide assistance in the rigorous first–year science
and math courses and to “hook” students with a first-year summer research experience.
Selected during summer orientation, qualified students will be invited to join the GEMS
program. In the first semester, selected students will take a first-year seminar course and
pre-calculus or calculus with supplementary workshops based on the group problem-
solving model. During the second semester, students will begin a science sequence
(biology, chemistry, computer science, geology or physics) and will continue in math.
During the summer, following successful completion of the required first-year courses,
students will be eligible for a paid summer research experience.
Significance of the project:
Scientific knowledge and innovations have been linked to a nation’s comparative
advantage in the global economy. Today the United States is the world leader in the
global science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) enterprise, but other
countries stand ready to challenge this economic strength. One of the main reasons is a
shortage of U.S. workers to fill STEM jobs. Technically skilled workers on H-1B Visas
(guest workers) are now making up for the U.S. worker shortfall. This supply of talent
could dwindle in the near future as other nations take steps to increase their own STEM
productivity. In order for the U.S. to remain a leader, U.S. colleges and universities will
need to focus on strategies to prepare the next generation of the STEM workforce. The
major responsibility will be to promote technological, quantitative and scientific literacy,
and to support an increase in diversity, size and quality of the next generation of STEM
professionals who enter the workforce (DUE’s mission - www.ehr.nsf.gov).
Currently, too few undergraduates are recruited and retained in STEM programs
to meet the nation’s future needs. During college, the highest risk of students switching
out of STEM disciplines (35%) occurs by the end of the first-year (Seymour & Hewitt,
97). As many as 25% of all high school graduates, but only 13% of college sophomores,
are interested in majoring in natural science and engineering (Green, 87). As students’
time in college increases, risk of attrition declines, with Hilton and Lee (1988) reporting a
loss between sophomore and junior year of only 2%. Therefore, we have designed our
GEMS intervention program to focus on the first year of college.
Introduction to the University:
The State University of West Georgia (UWG) is a selectively-focused
comprehensive university, located in Carrollton, Georgia, which is an hour’s drive west
of Atlanta. As of fall 2002, the university had more than 9,600 students (7,663 of which
are undergraduates), over 460 faculty members, with programs in arts and sciences,
business and education. The student body is comprised of 79% undergraduates, 64%
women and 22% African Americans. The undergraduate population can be defined as
traditional students with 78% less than 22 years old, 82% full-time and 60% of freshman
living on campus.
As a comprehensive university, UWG has important strengths. The faculty is
dedicated to both teaching and research. One of the visionary goals of the university is to
become a leader among comprehensive universities in the area of faculty-directed student
research. UWG has a history of programs to showcase and celebrate the success of these
efforts, with a university-wide yearly Celebration of Scholarship event and an annual
Sigma Xi student research paper competition. Faculty members are involved in research
projects supported by a full range of private and government funding sources. The newly-
constructed $24 million Technology-enhanced Learning Center (TLC) and the renovation
of many other buildings have improved STEM teaching facilities on campus. Faculty
members have obtained funding for instrumentation in teaching labs, as well as for
innovative teaching methods using the studio approach and workshops from NSF-ILI,
CCLI and MRI grants. The three-year-old Center for Teaching and Learning has been
directed by STEM faculty members since its inception. STEM faculty members
contribute tremendously to the retention and success of first-year students through a
variety of university-wide programs such as learning communities and the center for
Science/Math Departments at UWG:
STEM departments are actively involved in recruitment and retention efforts.
These include hosting the Annual High School Science Bowl, West Georgia Regional
Science Olympiad Tournament, Annual Lockhart Chemistry Competition, Physics Demo
Night and Group Observatory Observation sessions. The math department holds a Math
Day in April of each year, during which students from surrounding high schools come to
campus to participate in mathematics competitions and to learn about careers
opportunities in mathematics. In addition, faculty members host students from local high
schools or visit area schools to carry out demonstrations. Through these activities, our
goal is to promote interest for the sciences among the youth in the region.
The science and math departments have also actively participated in UWG
learning communities (LC). Students in a LC share a common program, (i.e., pre-
engineering, pre-health, etc.), take their classes together, live in the same residence hall
and participate in extra-curricular activities specially designed to reflect the academic
topics they are studying. Retention rates and GPAs are improved in LC students, relative
to their peers. Data for the spring of 2000 shows LC students had a GPA of 2.52 and a
74.40% retention rate, compared to a 2.22 GPA and a 65.08% retention rate for all other
freshman. As one Learning Community student put it, “The Learning Community has
helped my academic work because it inspires me to work hard. I know I am not alone and
that I should not be afraid to succeed.”
Despite these efforts, Table 1 and Table 2 clearly indicate a retention problem in
the STEM disciplines. The greatest decline in the number of STEM undergraduate majors
occurs between the first and second year. We attribute this to introductory STEM courses
not meeting the students’ needs, math anxiety, poor advising, misconceptions about being
a science major, Georgia HOPE scholarship program (students must maintain a 3.0 GPA
in order to retain this scholarship) and finally, to a lack of preparation. The GEMS
program is designed to attract new students from the large pool of undeclared students to
the STEM disciplines, as well as to increase the retention of STEM majors.
Table 1: Undergraduate Majors
Fall Fall Fall Fall
1999 2000 2001 2002
Biology 403 470 528 540
Chemistry 118 128 122 154
CS 181 239 250 225
Geosciences 48 52 61 53
Math 48 51 59 66
Physics 33 39 35 31
Pre-engineering 61 85 109 132
Undeclared 1253 1329 1173 1191
Table 2: STEM Graduation Data
1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 Average
Biology 37 17 17 18 32 24.2
Chemistry 8 9 6 11 13 9.4
CS 12 4 9 8 18 10.2
Geology 11 9 8 8 11 9.4
Math 7 13 4 6 5 7
Physics 4 5 3 2 5 3.8
The computer science department offers a CAC/ABET-accredited B.S. in
computer science (CS) and an M.S. in Applied CS. Located in the newly built TLC
building, the department has modern lab facilities and state of the art classroom facilities.
These facilities enable students and faculty to utilize modern technologies in the
classroom and in research. The computer science curriculum includes both traditional and
emerging areas of science and technology. Some of these include computer architecture,
software engineering, web technologies, database systems, operating systems, networks,
artificial intelligence and computational theory. The department has a number of highly
qualified faculty dedicated to and focused on undergraduate teaching and research. In
recent years, students from the CS department have placed high in the International
ACM/IBM Quest for Java™ contest, achieved prestigious technology awards and
engaged in research and presentation in regional conferences. About 20% of the
graduates go on to pursue graduate degrees in nationally renowned CS programs. Last
year the rest of the graduates were offered high paying jobs in the industry.
The biology department provides and maintains a rigorous curriculum which
facilitates the understanding of the major principles and concepts in the biological
sciences, promotes critical-thinking and communications skills and fosters a continuous
interest in learning. The department is also committed to student-oriented research.
Student-oriented research has led to the successful presentation of student papers at
professional meeting each year. Graduates of our program have been successful in
medical schools including Mercer, Medical College of Georgia, Emory, Vanderbilt, and
also been successful in obtaining Co-op positions, acceptance into graduate programs and
careers working at CDC, GBI, Pharmaceutical companies and Georgia Power.
The physics department offers seven plans leading to the B.S. degree in physics.
The quality of the physics undergraduate education at UWG is evidenced by the quality
of undergraduate student research, as well as from the publication of results in the form
of abstracts and student papers (24 over the past five years). The department of physics is
fully committed to its involvement in undergraduate faculty-guided student research.
Physics students have had a combined seven best undergraduate student papers in the
past five years at Sigma Xi and the Georgia Academy of Science. In addition, students
who desire to continue on to graduate school have obtained entrance to prominent
The chemistry department offers a B.A. and an American Chemical Society
certified B.S. degree. The department has an active research program, which was
enhanced in 1999 by an NSF-REU grant that has been renewed. Over half the graduates
in the past five years have proceeded to graduate or professional schools in chemistry or a
related profession. Students from UWG are currently pursuing doctoral work in
chemistry at some of the best programs in the nation, including Caltech, Cornell
University, University of Texas at Austin, University of North Carolina and Georgia
Tech. In addition, graduates have been awarded a Marshall Scholarship, a Barry M.
Goldwater Scholarship and a year-long internship working with Professor Francis Collins
at NIH on the Human Genome Project.
The Engineering Studies Program at UWG has two tracks: 2+2 Regents
Engineering Transfer Program (RETP), and the 3+2 dual degree programs in physics or
chemistry. The program has tripled in size in the past five years. The growth of the
program can be attributed to these unique features:
- Engineering Studies learning community offered to first year students since 1997
- Inter-disciplinary seminar course entitled, “What do you really know about
engineering?” developed to generate interest and enthusiasm in engineering
- National Engineer’s Week celebrated on campus involving bridge-building
- Field trips organized to local industries to give students the opportunity to observe
engineers in their workplace
The mathematics department offers a B.S., a B.A. and a minor in mathematics.
The curriculum includes both traditional and emerging areas of mathematics. Some of
these include differential equations, numerical analysis, graph theory, combinatorics,
number theory, applied statistics or education. The department has a number of highly
qualified faculty dedicated and focused on undergraduate teaching and research. In recent
years, students from the mathematics department have competed in a Mathematical
Contest in Modeling, in which teams of three students are challenged to use mathematics
to solve a real-world problem from science or industry. The 2000 team earned an
Honorable Mention, and the 2002 teamed earned Meritorious. Additional student
achievements include 11 published research papers, 16 presentations, a Goldwater
Scholarship and Best Research Paper from NSSA.
The geosciences department offers B.S. degrees in geology, physical geography
and earth science. The department was the recipient of the University System of
Georgia’s Teaching Excellence Award in 1997. For the past seven years, all students
seeking a B.S. in geology have undertaken supervised independent research projects, and
most have presented results at local, regional or national meetings. In part because of this
emphasis on directed research, the department is recognized regionally for producing
high-quality, self-motivated geoscientists with outstanding field and laboratory skills, as
well as critical thinking abilities. Approximately 35% of our graduates have proceeded to
graduate school in the past 4 years, and 80% of those who sought employment upon
graduation are presently employed in geoscience-related positions.
“Frontiers in Science and Technology” Seminar:
Most students would benefit from an experience that communicates the
excitement, satisfaction and value of a career in the sciences. To provide this experience
we will offer a first-year seminar entitled, “Frontiers in Science and Technology.” This
two credit hour interdisciplinary laboratory-based course will count toward the student’s
general education requirements. We will offer two to three sections of this course each
fall, with a limit of 24 students in each section. The students will be recruited from those
who have been accepted to UWG, have not declared a major and have displayed an
aptitude for math and science, as indicated by the type of mathematics and science
courses taken in high school, high school grades and math SAT scores. Great attention
will be paid to select students representing gender and ethic diversity. This program will
attempt to recruit these students to STEM majors. The course will be team taught by
faculty from all STEM disciplines using a studio model, in which instruction and hands-
on activities occur simultaneously, and where students work collaboratively to seek
solutions to problems set in real-world contexts. The course will include exciting hands-
on inquiry-based learning, field experiences, industrial tours and guest practitioners. This
will be supplemented by in-class discussions covering recent developments in STEM
The primary goal of this first-year experience seminar is to encourage students to
pursue careers in STEM disciplines. While committed to the belief that the sciences are
innately attractive, we recognize the need to counter some students’ previous negative
impressions and/or experiences. This can be accomplished by exposing students to the
enthusiasm and dedication of UWG STEM faculty, as well as by demonstrating those
aspects of their own disciplines that initially led them into the sciences. In addition, a
problem-based approach can produce students who are well-motivated, independent
learners and effective problem solvers who have a broad range of interpersonal skills
(Boud 1998.). Since the faculty for this course will be drawn from all STEM disciplines,
students will have the opportunity to identify with and be mentored by the most
appropriate role models.
The major course component will be hands-on, discovery based activities focused
around a theme that transcends disciplinary boundaries, such as, the study of roller
coasters, applications of forensics, the science involved in homeland security or the
bionic man. This pedagogy is based on the approach of William Newell, Executive
Director of the Association of Integrative Studies, to designing interdisciplinary courses.
According to Newell, “Successful interdisciplinary courses normally focus on a topic.
Within that topic, the most effective strategy is to ask a question that is too broad for any
one discipline to answer fully.” (Newell, 1994, p 38.). The study of roller coasters might
include computer aided design, structural analysis (physics/engineering), land survey, soil
analysis (chemistry/geology), material of construction, cost effectiveness, attendance
modeling (computer/math), the physiological response of the body and effect on the
One of the themes of the first-year seminar course will be forensic science.
Forensic science is a popular topic in society today, as demonstrated by the television
series C.S.I. (Crime Scene Investigator) on CBS. We will capitalize on the familiarity and
the popularity of this TV show to involve students in learning by using forensic case
studies as a inquiry-based learning tool. The inspiration for our forensic cases will come
from a variety of sources, such as current events, high profile cases (Unabomber –licked
stamp), fictional novels and television shows and published forensic case studies. The
class will be the investigative team collecting, examining, analyzing and displaying
evidence. The students will be given a crime scene scenario with only the initial basic
information. For example, a wrecked automobile with a partially decomposed female
body is found at the bottom of a cliff; also found in the trunk of the vehicle were bones
and a bag containing $10,000 dollars. The students will then be divided into groups of
four, and each group must come up with questions to ask that they think will help them
solve the crime. After about five to ten minutes the instructor will ask each group what
questions they have developed. For example, the student group may ask, “What is the
date and time of death?” The instructor will give the entire class the report of the Forensic
Entomologist on the types of insects and larvae found on the body and the date of the
insects colonizing the remains. Based on the questions the group feels are significant, the
students will then have to develop methods to answer them. For example, “Was the car
driven or pushed off the cliff?” This time the students may use computer simulations of
the fall of a car pushed versus a car driven off the cliff at various speeds. These results
will then be compared to the impact damage done to the vehicle. The students will have
to experimentally determine the identification of a drug residue on the money, as well as
to determine whether or not the bones are human; in addition, they will also determine
the sex, age, and height of the person the bones belonged to, before finally analyzing all
pathological clues to determine the cause of death. Other evidence that will be analyzed
will include DNA finger printing, forensic pathologist report, nearest government
weather stations reports on temperature, rainfall, humidity, wind, clouds and how these
factors influenced the crime scene. In addition, students must analyze shoe prints at the
top of the cliff, clothing fibers under the victim’s nails, paint found on victim and any
other information that leads the students to the solution. The students will use Geographic
Information System (GIS) software to create a database that can query, analyze and
display crime data from many perspectives, including location, type and time. The GIS
will be used to generate maps and reports during the investigation phase. Through the
process of solving the case, students will learn about the many areas of science used to
solve a crime. This will reinforce the interrelationship of the STEM disciplines.
In addition to the theme centered-activities, students will be given popular articles
on recent developments in STEM fields. These articles are to stimulate the students to
learn more about each topic, and to discuss/debate the issues presented in class. Topics
may include, “Should science be exploring ways to manufacture human organs?”; “Can
an organic computer chip be developed?”; “With genetic information readily available, is
it always good to know?" and “Is there life on other planets?” The course materials will
be developed the first summer after receiving the grant. An example syllabus is included
as an additional single copy document.
Peer-led team learning groups:
At UWG, 48% of students in pre-calculus are unsuccessful (D, F or W). Most of
the students do not seek help on their own. After a survey of both the literature (Allen,
1992, Maher, 2000 and Solow, 1994) on supplemental math instruction, as well as the
experience of UWG faculty, the peer-led team learning group approach was designed.
Using few grant resources, this program will significantly improve student performance
in pre-calculus and calculus. The learning groups will provide students with activities
designed to guide them in the construction of their own understanding of mathematical
concepts, strengthen their ability to critically apply mathematics and encourage the use of
a variety of skills and content to solve nontraditional problems.
Building on the successful structure of our learning community program, our
recruited students will remain together as a cohort in pre-calculus. This cohort allows
students the opportunity to experience the advantages of peer support and interaction in
the study of mathematics. In addition to remaining in the same class, the cohort will also
be required to participate in peer-led team learning groups that will actively engage
students in the learning process by having them solve carefully structured problems in
small groups under the direction of a trained peer leader. In general, students feel less
inhibited when requesting assistance from peers than from faculty (Gosser, 1998).
Students who have successfully completed the first year of this program will become peer
leaders in the second and following years.
There will be peer-led team learning groups for both pre-calculus and calculus I
classes open to all students.
Six learning groups for each subject area (pre-calculus/calculus) will be scheduled
each week, with varying times throughout the week to accommodate most schedules.
Each week the coordinator for these workgroups will send out an email asking the
instructors which topics they plan to cover the next week. The coordinator will take
this list and construct three separate groups of topics. There will be two workgroups
designated to each of the three topics (thus still providing flexibility to schedules
while accommodating the topics of all the instructors).
The coordinator of the supplementary workgroups will initially (fall semester) be the
faculty member responsible for teaching the two specially-designed pre-calculus
courses for GEMS students. The coordinator will receive a one-course release to
design and coordinate the peer-led workgroups for both pre-calculus and calculus
(designing worksheets, training peer-leaders, coordinating with instructors, etc.), as
well as to revise the special pre-calculus course for the GEMS students.
The peer-leaders are students who have successfully completed the course. They will
be well trained and closely supervised, with attention to content, problem solving,
teaching/learning strategies and leadership skills for small groups.
Within each learning group, the students will be split into teams of five or fewer.
Problems will be suggested from the students present. Each team will work on a
certain number of problems and will then present their solutions to the rest of the
workgroup. If there are not a large number of questions suggested by students, a
worksheet will be on hand (designed ahead of time to cover the topic of the specific
workgroup) for the students to work on collectively.
The peer leader will divide the students into groups and will help each group when
necessary. He/she will make sure that the answers and problem-solving processes are
correct. In addition, the peer leader may make suggestions for alternative methods.
The peer-leader will not only help the students in the workgroups, but he/she will also
provide a positive role model as someone who has successfully completed the course.
Peer-leaders will be diverse in gender and race, thus providing role models from all
Peer-leaders will be offered a small hourly wage to lead one or two learning groups
per week. Giving the talented students an opportunity to lead such groups helps to
strengthen their self-confidence while giving them a more solid foundation, as
teaching others will require them to learn the material with a deeper level of
Introductory science workgroups:
Within each STEM discipline, similar learning groups will be designed for the
introductory sequences in order to assist the students in obtaining a strong knowledge
base the STEM fields.
Reforming all first-year science and math courses:
Recent studies suggest that many students leave science and math because of their
negative introductory course experiences, including a punishing pace, competition, lack
of interaction among students, an emphasis on lecture rather than participation and
unapproachable intimidating instructors. (Tobias, 1990). To reduce student loss in STEM
introductory courses, the research clearly points to a need to actively and cooperatively
engage students (Daempfle). An examination and additional reform of STEM
introductory courses at UWG is important. These first-year science courses should be the
most exciting, mind-expanding courses in the curriculum that recruit and retain STEM
To effect such broad reform over multiple departments and instructors, it is
necessary to first assess current teaching practices and curriculum components. Realizing
that disciplinary history and tradition insert considerable inertia into the change process,
our planned examination of current practices will be performed by a team comprised of
GEMS Advisory council members and the GEMS teaching team. This team will review
curricula content, syllabi, pedagogy and classroom culture, and will survey STEM
students to provide positive and constructive recommendations. These recommendations
will assist faculty and departments in avoiding many of the wide spread deficits students
have identified in their STEM experiences.
To implement these recommendations, an aggressive faculty development
program will be developed in conjunction with the UWG Teaching and Learning Center.
STEM faculty teaching introductory courses will be offered the opportunity to attend
educational conferences, such as, Undergraduate Microbiology Education Conference,
Gordon Science Education and Policy Conferences, National Science Teachers
Association, ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education, ACS
Division of Chemical Education, etc. In addition, an internal grant program will be set up
to support efforts to reform introductory sciences courses. The focus of the competition
will be on making the courses more interdisciplinary, the incorporation of research into
the curriculum or the incorporation of real world applications into the course. The
executive committee will assist the award winners in assessing the effectiveness of the
reform. Positive results of these pilot efforts will be disseminated via the Center for
Teaching and Learning to other STEM faculty.
Planned Reform Activity in Pre-Calculus/Calculus Sections:
GEMS students will be enrolled in an enhanced section of either pre-calculus or
calculus (depending on a math placement test taken during their summer orientation).
Currently, the pre-calculus/calculus courses consist of four fifty-minute lecture periods
per week. The enhanced pre-calculus/calculus courses will use one of the fifty-minute
periods as an application lab. Using small groups and cooperative learning, students will
apply the mathematics they are learning in the class to a variety of sciences, including
applications in physics, biology, chemistry, computer science, etc. The students will
actively be involved in hands-on mathematical applications involving software and
technology. This is in an attempt to interest the students in the sciences, as well as try to
answer one of the most common questions students have while taking math courses:
“Why is this important? Where can this be applied?” Answering these questions will give
the students a stronger desire to learn the material in the class. If possible, we will try to
combine the applications in the pre-calculus course with the hot topics presented during
the freshman STEM seminar course. For the Application Lab, Matlab, student-friendly
software will be acquired.
The positive impact of faculty advising and mentoring, as well as being a role
model for students pursuing science, math and engineering careers has been repeatedly
confirmed (e.g., Eccles and Jacobs, 1986). One of the keys to retaining students in STEM
disciplines is regular and personal contact with a particular instructor who takes interest
in them (McShannon, 02).
Many students are deterred from finishing their STEM degree in a timely fashion
because they begin their studies with inappropriate courses. All students accepted in our
GEMS program will be placed in pre-calculus or a higher-level math course based on a
math placement exam. Requiring undecided students to take pre-calculus or calculus as
their first math course instead of college algebra will put these students on a STEM track.
In addition, each GEMS student will be required to meet with one or more STEM course
faculty members to talk about course selection, career plans and major selection each
semester they are in the program. When GEMS students receive this advisement, they
will be required to complete a survey that will document the students’ thinking about
career options and STEM in general. This will be used in evaluation of the project.
GEMS Research Fellowships:
During the summer between their first and second year, GEMS students will
spend eight weeks on campus as paid research fellows working on a collaborative
research project with STEM faculty. The experience will include an initial two-day
orientation covering an introduction to the topics for the research projects, research
methodology, ethics in research and career opportunities. At the end of the orientation,
the participants will be asked to indicate their first and second choice of research projects.
The participants will be paired with UWG faculty in teams of two to three. For the
remainder of the summer, the participants will work in their research group and will meet
weekly for a seminar or field trip. The program will end with the students making
presentations of their independent research at a research symposium. Awards will be
given for the best student research projects judged by entering GEMS students, other
participants and faculty. Examples of possible summer research projects with STEM
faculty are as follows:
Engineering Summer Project (Dr. Sharmistha Basu-Dutt): Optimal utilization of
energy resources has impacted the quality of human life over the centuries. In this
summer project, students will investigate different forms of energy to determine how they
are used in everyday life. For example, students will test the performance of different
types of batteries, refrigerants and grades of gasoline. They will then design and build a
highly efficient but complicated device utilizing a sequence of energy transfer processes
to perform a simple task such as lifting an object to a certain height.
Conservation Genetics (Dr. Leos Kral): Tallapoosa darters are endemic to the
Tallapoosa River system composed of the Tallapoosa River and the Little Tallapoosa
River which flows near the campus of the State University of West Georgia. The habitat
of the Tallapoosa darter is threatened by excessive sedimentation due to human
population growth in western Georgia. Analyses of mitochondrial DNA sequences
indicate that the darter populations in the Tallapoosa River are genetically distinct from
the darter populations in the Little Tallapoosa River. However, to classify these
populations as “Evolutionarily Significant Units,” it is also important to demonstrate a
significant divergence of allele frequencies at nuclear loci. Single nucleotide
polymorphisms (SNPs) are currently being identified in the genomic DNA of the
Tallapoosa darter. As a summer project, GEMS students would utilize PCR and single
stranded conformational polymorphism analysis of these SNPs in the various Tallapoosa
darter populations to determine if these populations are indeed genetically different.
The Effects of Dioxin in Carroll County (Dr. Vickie Geisler): Southwire, a cable
and wiring manufacturer located in Carrollton, Georgia, was the second largest releaser
of dioxin in the country in 2001, according to the Time-Georgian, Carrollton’s
newspaper. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clearly describes dioxin as a
serious public health threat. The public health impact of dioxin may rival the impact that
DDT had on public health in the 1960's. The GEMS students involved in this research
project will study the effects of dioxin on the citizens of Carroll County. Students will use
EPA approved methods to determine dioxin levels in local fish, chicken, eggs, milk, soil
and water. They will also study the epidemiology of diseases in Carroll County linked to
dioxin, and will examine how dioxin works at the molecular level. In addition they will
look at the politics associated with environmental control.
Mathematical Modeling of the Aids Epidemic (Dr. Michelle Joiner): The Centers
for Disease Control (CDC) has numerous data on the AIDS epidemic, ranging from the
total number of cases in the United States to the specifics about cases within certain states
by race, age or gender. The students will initially learn about fitting functions (such as
lines and exponential functions) to data. They will use these techniques to first plot data
to illustrate the spread of the AIDS epidemic, and then to try to model a small portion of
data (for example from the year 1981 through 1991). They will then try to estimate the
trend of the epidemic in future years (past 1991), and will compare their estimates to
actual data from the CDC. They can then determine if their model accurately predicted
the outcome for those years. If not, they can hypothesize why their model proved faulty
(e.g., should other factors been present within their model?). They will also compare data
just within the state of Georgia to the entire United States. They will also make gender,
age or racial comparisons, looking at the differences in models when only a subset of the
data is used.
Immunology (Dr. Deborah Lea-Fox): Students will explore the procedure called
ELISA (Enzyme-Linked ImmunoSorbent Assay), which is currently used worldwide for
many purposes, including identification of HIV positive blood samples. Initially the
students will be introduced to ELISA and given independent reading assignments about
the procedure and its many uses. The students will first observe a demonstration of the
procedure from beginning to end (four days) before they independently perform an AIDS
ELISA using a simulated student kit. (No actual blood products will be used.) Finally the
students will perform ELISA, detecting the presence of antigens and antibodies in various
serum samples. The exact samples used will depend on the current research being
conducted in the immunology lab at University of West Georgia. Learning a basic
immunology procedure will be beneficial to any science major because this concept is
utilized in many areas of science.
Environmental Impact of Urbanization in Georgia (Drs. Julie Bartley and Rebecca
Dodge): Rapid growth in Georgia over the past decade has altered the landscape of the
state significantly. Areas of clear-cutting, industrial growth and residential construction
are clearly visible on satellite images contained in UWG’s satellite archive. Rapid growth
has dramatically impacted water quality and water resource management in most regions
of the state. Student researchers can participate in a variety of research projects, including
landscape change over the past 1-2 decades; water quality threats; effects of urbanization;
land use planning and habitat change. Students will examine changes using at least two
datasets, evaluate hypotheses, predict the impact of future growth and suggest
remediation strategies where appropriate.
Understanding the biological macromolecules, the Proteins (Dr. S. Swamy
Mruthinti): Proteins are the building blocks of the body. In the cells proteins perform a
variety of functions. They provide structural support, act as enzymes and regulate a wide
variety of biological processes. They exist either freely or are associated with the
organelles of the cell. To understand their function, one needs to separate them. The
summer undergraduate research project involves physical and chemical separation of
proteins and their characterization. In the post-genomic era, the study of proteins (known
as proteomics) has taken the center stage of biomedical research. In the summer research
program, the GEMS students will be introduced to basic skills of proteomics.
Identification and extraction of named entity from newswire text (Dr. Muhammad
A. Rahman): Automatic identification of named entities and the extraction of information
associated with them from natural language text can have a variety of applications. For
instance, one might scan business newswire texts for announcements of management
succession events (retirements, appointments, promotions, etc.), extract the names of the
participating companies and individuals, the post involved, the vacancy reason and so on.
Named entity extraction can also be useful in creating profiling databases by law
enforcement agencies. The students will start their research work by learning about
natural language processing and information extraction systems that are being built by
other researchers. They will learn how to find articles on similar work and will be
assigned independent reading related to information extraction before they begin the
Measuring the Speed of Sound (Dr. Javier Hasbun): The speed of sound is about
340 m/s at room temperature. Its measurement can be carried out in various ways. In this
project we plan to use a sonic ranger operated by a computer through the use of its game
port. A computer program written in basic will be used to control the ranger in order to
send sound pulses, as well as to detect the returning echo signal from a target. The speed
of sound is obtained by taking the ratio of the total distance traveled by the sound signal
and its time of flight. The project's goal is to obtain an accurate time of flight for the
sound signal thereby effecting an accurate measurement of the sound speed.
Analyzing Temperature in Relation to Development (Dr. Karen Smith): The
temperature in degrees Fahrenheit varies according to topography and the surrounding
development of an area. In this research, a local reporting weather station will be used as
a focal point and the temperature change at a certain distance both east and north will be
recorded in an attempt to discover the effects of development on temperature over a
region. Inferences will be made based on the results as to the effects of impending
development in the region.
Current reform efforts in first-year sciences courses:
The GEMS program builds on existing reform efforts. The computer science
department has an NSF funded project aimed at improving the retention rate in the
computer science program at the State University of West Georgia and at comparable
regional colleges and universities, particularly among the minority, female and rural
students. The project also intends to enhance the ability of less selective institutions to
include a strong foundation in mathematics in their undergraduate computer science
programs. To attain the above goals, this project adapts and implements successful
pedagogical practices and materials from computer science and mathematics education
and asynchronous learning networks. By developing modules which integrate
foundational mathematical concepts with computer science coursework, this project
provides students with motivated development in the mathematics required for success in
computer science. Modules are being developed under this project in which students
work with asynchronously at their pace; these modules directly tie mathematics to
computer science problems.
The chemistry department adopted the new “studio” paradigm, in which all
instruction occurs in a single room and has a purpose built space in the new TLC
building. The “studio” method combines the lectures and laboratory exercises into one
seamless presentation in which the instructor gives brief tutorials on new material,
followed by hands-on activities that immediately reinforce the concept at hand. On
occasion, the order of this process is reversed to allow students to experience an
"experimental discovery" followed by the formulation of a hypothesis, before moving to
the explanation in the reading material.
The students are also required each week to attend "Workshop Chemistry," which
are study groups facilitated by a student leader who has previously taken the course. In
groups of roughly a dozen, the students collectively solve problems closely associated
with the material discussed that week in the "studio" classes. Our efforts have been
supported by three separate grants from the National Science Foundation. Scores on
national standardized examinations reveal a sharp increase in student learning as a result
of this curricular reform. In addition, an experiential survey was carried out for all
students in introductory courses taught exclusively in the studio in fall of 2002. In their
first exposure to this new format, 60-80% of the students gave responses that were highly
positive or were positive for each of the ten questions asked pertaining to the studio itself,
teaching methods, learning and overall satisfaction.
Management and implementation plan:
The GEMS Program will be managed and administered by the PI, Assistant Dean
of the College of Arts and Sciences, Vickie Geisler. Her responsibilities on this project
will include budget preparation and oversight, staff supervision, directing the
implementation of project activities, program development, training and coordinating
activities among various groups and individuals. She will be assisted in daily operations
of the project by a Project Coordinator.
PI Vickie Geisler is an organic chemist who served as department chair for five
years before being appointed to her current administrative position. She has served as PI
on two NSF-funded grant projects. The most recent grant, an REU project, where 50% of
the students and faculty were women, was recently renewed. In addition, she has
conducted summer science camps on campus for middle school girls to increase their
interest in and awareness of science. Under Dr. Geisler’s direction as department chair,
one of her responsibilities was that of guiding and mentoring junior faculty, all of whom
were promoted and tenured. This occurred at a time when research standards at the
institution increased dramatically. Dr. Geisler was also instrumental in increasing the
number of female faculty in the department, increasing the number of chemistry majors,
improving instrument holdings and lab conditions, implementing the studio and
workshop method of instruction with extensive NSF funding, increasing the number of
chemistry graduates accepted into top tier graduate and professional programs and
promoting undergraduate research. In her current position, Dr. Geisler provides
leadership in student-faculty relations, accreditation issues, college budget preparation
and management and program review and assessment.
The Program Coordinator will be hired to assist the project director with
scheduling and coordinating the GEMS programs. Ideally, the Coordinator will have a
master’s degree in an STEM field; however, someone with a Bachelor’s degree and
significant experience would be considered. Responsibilities will include collecting data
on the entering undecided students, scheduling fall courses, assisting the math
coordinator, serving as a laboratory assistant in the Frontiers seminar and maintaining a
database for each GEMS student.
The math coordinator, Michelle Joiner, will recruit, train and coordinate the
activities of the peer-tutors, and will also develop and teach the enhanced pre-calculus
and calculus sections.
An advisory council will meet twice a year and will be chaired by the VPAA, Tim
Hynes, and membership will include Richard Miller, the Dean of the College of Arts and
Sciences; Cheryl Rice, the Director of the EXCEL center; John Storer, the Director of
Sponsored Operations; STEM department chairs and the executive committee. This
group will provide advice to the project and will facilitate dissemination about the project
throughout the institution.
More direct project oversight will be provided by an Executive Committee,
comprised of the project director, program coordinator, co-PIs, and other senior
personnel. This committee will have the primary responsibility of selecting the GEMS
students, teaching the “Frontier” seminar, coordinating the summer fellows program and
will act as advisor and mentor to the GEMS students.
Benchmarks to measure progress:
50% of the GEMS cohort will choose to start the STEM track.
75% of the summer research fellows will declare a STEM major.
Student success in pre-calculus and calculus will increase from 52% to 70%.
20% increase in retention of all students who begin reformed introductory science
10% increase in graduate rates in STEM disciplines.
The GEMS project presents some interesting evaluation challenges. The final
outcome is, of course, the decision to major in a STEM discipline at rates greater than
that of students not exposed to GEMS. Since GEMS is composed of multiple
components, it is equally important to identify those components that most effectively
influence a student’s career decision, both early in the project’s history and as
determinants of final outcomes. “Major” is a state that can be moved out of as well as
into, so an effective evaluation model must include the paths of all relevant precedent
events in analysis.
The GEMS interventions are best characterized as a series of dichotomous
variables. This allows the entire first year cohort to be incorporated into a model with the
intervention cohort to test effectiveness of the various components (i.e. nonintervention
students will be coded “no” on intervention variables, while intervention students can be
coded appropriately while included in the same model).
These dichotomous variables include: Fall Frontiers seminar, mandatory math
workgroup attendance, enhanced advising, pre-calculus and calculus success, summer
research, science workgroup attendance, math peer tutor and science peer tutor.
These data will be examined on a semester basis. Ultimately, when the first
intervention cohort have completed their education or exited the study, an inclusive
multiple regression or Structural Multivariate Probit Model (Joe, 1997; Goodman, 1976)
will be constructed to describe the impact of the intervention components on decisions
about major. Perhaps more importantly, rigor can be added to our formative evaluation
by examining the relationship of related pairs of variables each semester, calculating a
simple gamma(y) statistic, and using the resulting information on strength and direction
of association to improve less effective components (e.g. Does being a pre-calculus peer-
leader increase calculus I success?).
Other standard evaluation tools will be employed primarily for formative
evaluative purposes. These include time series measurement of math anxiety, attitude
toward science, course evaluations, instruments testing career interest and academic
Results of evaluation data will be summarized annually by project staff and will
be presented to the Advisory Council for review and possible project improvement.
Dissemination and Sustainability:
We intend to write and publish a series of laboratory manuals and course packets
for the “Frontiers in Science and Technology” seminar. This material will be
disseminated to a national audience. To increase the number of faculty who are aware of
our project, we will publish the results of our intervention in major education journals.
Each executive team member will be responsible for presenting the results of our project
at major education conferences. We intend to target discipline specific conferences.
The Frontiers seminar is easily sustainable by the end of the grant period. This
course, once fully developed, can be taught with one faculty member and quest speakers,
and the hands-on activities will be supported by UWG laboratory fees. A STEM
recruitment committee composed of each department’s undergraduate recruitment chair
will identify and select frontiers seminar students. The math and science learning groups
could be supported by revenue generated from the sale of the “Frontiers” course material.
In addition, current university resources, student assistantships, graduate assistantships,
etc, could be used to support successful activities that improve students’ success. The
summer fellows program will be difficult to sustain at the same level. All departments
will be encouraged to provide research experiences for first-year students. Current
university policy allows the faculty who have students doing summer research for credit
to receive compensation. However, providing stipends and financial support for summer
fellows will be difficult to sustain.