An Institutional Model for Increasing Faculty & Student Engagement through Research-Based Curricula

Judy Awong-Taylor
Professor of Biology
Georgia Gwinnett College

Need: Our project addresses the challenges of reforming STEM education using a comprehensive, interdisciplinary, systems approach model that focuses on the entire institution rather than a single course, a few courses, or a single department. Inspired by our highly diverse student population, our model was designed to meet the need to graduate more diverse students with STEM competencies, including research and creative skills, content knowledge, and ultimately contribute to the STEM community and workforce. Our systems approach model includes three interconnected levels: (1) a macro-level focusing on the institution’s objective to increase enrollment and retention rates of under-represented, under-prepared students in STEM fields; (2) a meso-level addressing curriculum reform to provide rigorous research-based curricula that build STEM skills through multiple research and creative experiences for all students during their years of matriculation (via Course-embedded Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs)); and (3) a micro-level focused on faculty development and student engagement and learning. Each level requires important processes and resources to enable institutional reform. Additionally, ongoing formative assessments between these levels inform our processes and decisions to drive institutional change. Although our project utilizes the extensive research base of ‘best’ practices such as HIPs, our application of these practices is innovative due to the effort to promote systems thinking among and between the different levels, thus simultaneously impacting student learning and engagement, faculty development, curricula reform, and decision making.Research Questions: Our work was guided by four research questions and targeted specific activities of our model. In what ways and to what extent does: (1) scaffolding of CUREs in gateway courses impact student engagement and learning? (2) implementing a Peer Supplemental Instruction Program as an integrated component improve student learning and retention? (3) a faculty development mini-grant program incentivize faculty to focus on STEM education research and result in sustainable changes to institutional culture? (4) the inclusion of CUREs and our 4-Year Model transfer to other institutions? Outcomes: Preliminary assessment indicates that our model may lead to improved teaching and student engagement, as evidenced by increased: (1) STEM skills in students, (2) student GPA; (3) STEM retention and progression rates, especially for minority and under-represented groups (prior to Covid-19); and (4) student attitudes about STEM. The model also promotes collaboration and scholarship opportunities for faculty to hone scientific teaching skills; redesign curricula to include important STEM skills; collaborate with faculty outside their discipline; engage in SoTL research, and publish their scholarly work. Our collaboration with other institutions indicates that our model has the potential to be replicable and transferable. Broader Impact: We have collaborated with a variety of institutions throughout the southeast and have helped them develop and implement CUREs in biology, chemistry, and physics gateway courses. CUREs are inclusive since they offer students of all backgrounds research experiences. We have successfully disseminated our results at our annual STEM Symposia, and more recently we have organized and invited over 40 faculty from ten institutions to present their CUREs at the last two annual meetings of the Association of Southeastern Biologists.


Clay Runck, Georgia Gwinnett College, Lawrenceville, GA; Allison D’Costa, Georgia Gwinnett College, Lawrenceville, GA; David Pursell, Georgia Gwinnett College, Lawrenceville, GA; Tirza Leader, Georgia Gwinnett College, Lawrenceville, GA; Cindy Achat-Mendes, Georgia Gwinnett College, Lawrenceville, GA; Chantelle Anfuso, Georgia Gwinnett College, Lawrenceville, GA