U-M, Georgia Tech to Expand College-Level STEM Education Program


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Students work on a group assignment in the Space Research Building.

Photo by Joespeh Xu

The University of Michigan is teaming up with Georgia Tech to expand a national education program that encourages an interest and education in the STEM fields  (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) by providing undergraduates and masters students with considerable experience in faculty research.

“The program takes a unique approach to student involvement in faculty research,” says Nicole Moore, spokeswoman for the University of Michigan College of Engineering. “Rather than typical semester- or year-long lab assignments for individual students, it forms student teams that work closely with faculty research groups for a long time – perhaps most of a student’s undergraduate career.”

Teams at U-M, for instance, are currently using big data to develop connected vehicle technologies; modeling Great Lakes water flows; and designing a mission to test feasibility of smartphone-sized spacecraft driven by the Earth’s magnetic field and energy from the sun.

The planned expansion of the Vertically Integrated Projects program follows a $5-million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aiming to drive systemic reform of STEM education and increase American competitiveness and innovation.

“It is very compelling to see such a range of engineering schools across the country that are ready to adopt large-scale, effective practices that we expect will retain more students, particularly more women and students of color,” says Ryan Kelsey, program officer at the trust.

Not only will the grant allow Michigan Engineering to double the number of students currently participating in the program, the school also plans to help other universities launch their own programs.

“For many students, this is the first chance they’ve had to do something real while they’re undergraduates,” said Edward Coyle, founder and director of Georgia Tech’s VIP program.

He says the experience better informs their classroom study and often leads to publishing research papers or deciding to continue into graduate research in STEM fields.

STEM education has been a focus of Gov. Rick Snyder, highlighted in his 2014 State of the State address. According to Georgia Tech, the Vertically Integrated Projects program — currently implemented in 15 universities — benefits STEM education because it draws students of various ages, interests, and experiences.

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