A grant from the National Science Foundation has put Indiana University of Pennsylvania at the forefront of teaching students how to work as a team.

A group of IUP faculty, led by Justin Fair and Anne Kondo, both from the Department of Chemistry, recently received $663,835 from the NSF for their project, “Better Preparing STEM Graduates for Employment: An Interdisciplinary, Problem-based Approach for Teaching and Assessing Teamwork and Interpersonal Skills.” The $663,835 award is one of the largest research grants ever received by IUP.

The grant will help IUP create a new minor, beginning in fall 2017, called Effective Teamwork and Communication. The minor is designed to teach students how to work as part of a team, help each other to achieve common goals, and be more productive in the workplace.

“This is really big,” said Fair, the grant principal investigator. “IUP is leading the nation in this. We will create the blueprint so other universities can use it.”

The idea for the project started three years ago from conversations some IUP faculty members had with employers about what skills they want prospective hires to have.

“Employers have told us about a lack of teamwork skills,” said Kondo. “They've said those skills are more important, in some cases, than technical skills. There is this disconnect there. Employers expect technical skills. But what they want, and don't expect anymore, are those interpersonal skills that help groups get things done.”

Although Fair and Kondo teach in the Department of Chemistry, the minor is not just for students in that discipline. Its intended use is for students in all STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Students in a variety of majors could learn about teamwork, and the lessons in teamwork could be applied to any number of majors, Fair said.

In the grant abstract, the group noted that “Few STEM majors have room in their technically heavy course load to introduce these skills. To fill this gap, this project creates and assesses a new academic model that spans across a student's four-year education, introducing the concepts in general education courses and allowing for an enriched application, practice, and evaluation of these skills in their science careers.”

Fair said it would be a good idea if all departments were able to teach lessons in teamwork, but it's just not feasible in many fields due to their substantial curricular requirements.

“We just don't have enough time in the semester to teach these skills as part of the regular coursework,” he said.

The team working with Fair and Kondo includes faculty from many different disciplines: William Farrell and Theresa Ruffner from the Department of Psychology; Melanie Hildebrandt, Department of Sociology; Rita Johnson, Department of Food and Nutrition; Michael Kosicek, Department of Management; Robert Major, Paul Nealen, and Daniel Widzowski from the Department of Biology; Nathan McElroy, Department of Chemistry; Brian Okey, Department of Geography and Regional Planning; Joyce Shanty, Department of Nursing; and Gail Wilson, Department of Communications Media.