Interdisciplinary Team of Faculty Receives Funding from National Science Foundation

Posted on 10/24/2016 10:09:50 AM

The School of Graduate Studies and Research is pleased to announce that Justin Fair, chemistry, Theresa Ruffner, psychology, Melanie Hildebrandt, sociology, Gail Wilson, communications media, Michael Kosicek, management, Anne Kondo, chemistry, and Karen Cercone, geoscience, received a funding award in the amount of $663,835 from the National Science Foundation for their project, “Better Preparing STEM Undergraduates for Employment: An Interdisciplinary, Problem-based Approach for Teaching and Assessing Teamwork and Interpersonal Skills.”

Project Abstract

Ninety percent of employers identify teamwork and communications skills of new STEM hires as equally or more important than the technical skills science majors bring to their first job. 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 courses. Psychology, social science, and communication courses introduce the theory, practice, and self-assessment of skills required for good teamwork. Students enhance and reflect on their skills through team-based interdisciplinary research projects, both in science courses required for their majors and through independent research. The project further explores how this model can be transferred to other institutions through collaboration with external universities, national workshops, and publication in peer-reviewed journals. With the integration of this new academic model, STEM students are more competitive and better prepared for the interdisciplinary collaborations in high demand in the workforce of the future.

The project builds a universitywide model that provides comprehensive training, practice, and evaluation of lifelong interprofessional skills to address this gap in the STEM workforce. To meet this need, the project team transforms STEM education by creating a new four-year universitywide curricular model, including an Effective Teamwork and Communications minor, allowing students to learn, apply, and reflect on their interprofessional skills. These critical skills, and the theories behind them, are taught and assessed throughout students' education, in multiple courses, both in and out of their majors. The model avoids adding coursework by utilizing liberal studies courses, taught by appropriate faculty experts, which explicitly link the discipline specific theories of interprofessional skills to their use in a student's scientific discipline. Through interdisciplinary research problems, embedded in in-major courses, STEM students engage in genuine teamwork, learning how to continually assess their individual contributions and the quality of team interactions, preparing them to transfer these skills to the STEM workforce. 

Research at IUP