Campus News

New interdisciplinary study aims to better prepare college students for STEM careers

A UGA education researcher is directing a new study he hopes will lead to better methods of preparing college students for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by training them to think across disciplines rather than focusing on specific disciplinary topics.

College graduates seeking STEM careers today are expected to have interdisciplinary knowledge, but the science education they receive is often incompatible with the emerging needs in STEM-related research and industry, said Ji Shen, an assistant professor in the College of Education’s department of mathematics and science education, who is directing the study. Most students develop only a fragmented understanding of science.

Shen is leading a diverse research team which includes members from five departments across three UGA colleges: Steve Oliver, Shawn Glynn and Shannon Huang from the College of Education; Tom Robertson, co-principal investigator, James Moore and Wan-I Oliver Li from the College of Veterinary Medicine; and Craig Wiegert and Kathrin Stanger-Hall from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

The research team will create an assessment system that helps college students develop interdisciplinary learning skills. They will work with UGA students taking introductory physics, biology, physiology and science education courses.

“The project will help UGA students develop interdisciplinary understanding in science and better prepare them to pursue interdisciplinary STEM careers,” said Shen.

The study is funded by a two-year, $397,425 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The team will design and implement assessments to help college students integrate scientific knowledge and solve complex problems across disciplines, targeting fundamental biological processes, such as diffusion, filtration and osmosis in the context of physiology.

The assessment items will be developed using state-of-the-art computerized modeling environments and Web-based tools. Complex biological processes will be modeled through dynamic computer visualizations.

Project activities will provide integrative learning opportunities for students rarely offered in college-learning contexts.