Public Release: 

NSF Awards Recognize Comprehensive Reform Of Undergraduate Education

National Science Foundation

University of California-Irvine leaders have decided that their existing mathematics and science curriculums are no longer adequate to prepare students to meet the needs of modern society.

From that seemingly simple and straightforward proposition, U.C.-Irvine is about to embark on an ambitious strategy to modernize its teaching. The university will infuse technology into all teaching, forging partnerships with professional associations, and create a series of interdisciplinary curricula.

These ground-breaking changes and institutional commitment led the National Science Foundation to include U.C.-Irvine among 19 colleges and universities to receive monetary awards in the second year of the agency's Institution-Wide Reform of Undergraduate Education (IR) initiative.

"U.C.-Irvine has made the kind of commitment to comprehensively restructure, not merely tinker, at the margins of reform, which is what the IR initiative is about," said Luther S. Wiliams, who heads NSF's education and human resources directorate.

The UC-Irvine initiative is among many of the progressive changes being made by two and four-year institutions that NSF is recognizing through awards of up to $200,000 in the second year of the IR initiative.

Florida A&M University, for example, is an awardee for developing a multidisciplinary science course for non-science majors and creating a faculty professional development initiative that emphasizes effective use of technology.

At Millikin University, a small school in Decatur, Ill., introductory science courses and related labs will link the study of biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics to other scientific and technological disciplines. The school will also require students to teach a class in local K-12 schools.

"The problems of the future will be very complex and they will require interdisciplinary approaches and solutions," Norman Fortenberry, who heads NSF's division of undergraduate education, points out. "At too many institutions, there is not a mechanism for faculty to work with their counterparts in other disciplines, nor to team-teach across disciplines."

NSF launched the IR initiative in 1996 to reward institutions that have made significant improvements in the quality of undergraduate education and are now prepared to introduce sweeping changes to extend those innovations to benefit all students. The changes reflect the institutions' response to the new demands faced by undergraduates to succeed in a highly technological society.

Williams said the IR initiative addresses serious national deficiencies in undergraduate education that were highlighted in a report, Shaping the Future: New Expectations for Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology. NSF published the report last summer.

The IR awards complement another NSF initiative, the Recognition Awards for the Integration of Research and Education (RAIRE), which provided $500,000 grants to 10 research-intensive universities for their commitments to blending their research and education programs. RAIRE recognizes the prior achievements of large research universities, says Williams, while the IR intiative is open to all institutions that enroll undergraduate students and focuses on planned new programs to improve education in math, science and engineering.

Awards for Institution-wide Reform of Undergraduate Education

  • Alverno College: The women's college in Milwaukee is expanding the quantitative reasoning requirement for all students beyond the introductory level, including non-math and science majors.

  • Brooklyn College - City University of New York: The school's "across the curriculum" project systematically links quantitative skills through core course in math, natural sciences and social sciences.

  • Broward Community College: This two-year Florida college's new Exploration Center will have an integrated math, science, engineering and technology curriculum with multi-course projects and interaction with business and govenment agencies.

  • City College - City University of New York: The school is increasing the engagement of faculty in undergraduate education through new reward structures, formal training in curriculum design and mentoring and support systems.

  • Colorado School of Mines: The school is in the fourth year of a curriculum reform process, currently implementing a unique undergraduate engineering curriculum that will include new texts, lab experiments and multimedia materials.

  • Colorado State University: A two-year project will overhaul math, science and computing skills for non-science majors. Multi-disciplinary, lab-based core courses have clearly defined links between the impact of science and technology on society and the essential role of non-science disciplines.

  • Drexel University: Drexel is building faculty-wide teaching development activities based on successful programs in math/science integration with engineering, widening the effort into investigative, problem-solving bioscience curriculums.

  • Hampshire College: The Massachusetts institution's expanded Inquiry Project Courses include an original research project to expand student skills in critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, collaborative research and communications.

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology: M.I.T. is developing discipline-specific communications instruction and practice into its technical and scientific undergraduate programs, recognizing that scientists' and engineers' professional success depends upon how they communicate to wide audiences.

  • Milikin University: The Illinois university is fundamentally changing introductory science courses across disciplines to increase student understanding of the linkages between them, and applying this knowledge to solve problems in the local community.

  • New York City Technical College - City University of New York: The revision of core mathematics and science courses includes identifying connections among the courses and developing experience-based problems that enhance student skills in critical thinking.

  • Portland State University: A Science Cornerstone Project of interdisciplinary courses is designed to achieve improved science literacy among students majoring in fields outside science, math, engineering and technology.

  • Sinclair Community College: The Dayton, Ohio college is employing new methods to align curriculum format to modern delivery systems and addressing new ways to align curriculum outcomes with the requirements of the modern work place.

  • Southwestern College: The Kansas school is structuring research projects to address real problems. Freshmen students conduct an across-the-curriculum project in water quality, formulating hypotheses and designing experiments, then generating proposals for research by the next freshman class.

  • Trinity College, Connecticut: Philosophy course labs are being developed to model those found in science departments to focus on students' problem-solving skills. Cross-disciplinary techniques in math and science associated with philosophy to improve math and science literacy within a humanities setting.

  • University of California - Irvine: Major curriculum changes in math, computer science and engineering (and engineering literacy), along with a new infusion of educational technology and multidisciplinary curricular committees are part of a Campuswide Reform Initiative.

  • University of Delaware: Interdisciplinary faculty teams are creating freshman and sophomore-based Foundation Courses in science and engineering to increase analytical skills, better communication, teamwork and resource utilization.

  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute: Addressing concerns of students that introductory science and mathematics courses have little relation to one another, WPI has begun a system of peer-assisted cooperative learning, open-ended group course projects and integrated computational and instructional technology.


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