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New STEM Institute Wins First Race to the Top Grant

STEM Institute LogoJust weeks after being officially recognized, Georgia Southern’s new Institute for Interdisciplinary STEM Education (i2STEMe ) was named the recipient of a Race to the Top Innovation Fund Grant by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) grant, which is estimated at approximately $700,000 during two years, will fund a unique partnership between Georgia Southern, seven area research institutes and six school districts covering 27 counties in Georgia’s lower coastal plain. It is the first Innovation Fund Grant that has been awarded to Georgia Southern.

COE was a key player in the initial phases of designing i2STEMe along with administrators from the College of Science and Math (COSM) and the Allen E. Paulson College of Science and Technology (CEIT).  Dr. Robert Mayes, who joined COE’s faculty last year, is the new director of i2STEMe.  Mayes came to COE to conduct research on quantitative reasoning in STEM and spearheaded, through Georgia Southern’s Office of Research, the first International STEM Research Symposium on Quantitative Reasoning in Mathematics and Science Education, held in 2012 in Savannah.

The new Race to the Top grant, called “Real STEM,” targets rural south Georgia high schools in areas with high minority and low socio-economic status populations. A main goal of i2STEMe is to reach this population.  Four COE faculty worked on writing the grant: COE Dean Dr. Thomas Koballa, i2STEMe Director Dr. Robert Mayes, Goizueta Chair Dr. Alejandro Gallard and Assistant Professor Dr. Chuck Hodges from the Department of Leadership, Technology and Human Development.

The grant will develop hands-on STEM learning modules related to the environmental concerns of Georgia’s coastal region.  The partnership will develop problem-based modules for high school career pathways courses mandated by State House Bill 186.  The 150 students in the first year of the project and 300 in the second year will apply STEM to real-world, place-based problems arising from research conducted on the coastal plain.  The students will be mentored by scientists and taught by teachers working in professional learning communities in collaboration with scientists.

As part of the grant, the team will work with research partners at Georgia Southern, the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, the UGA Marine Institute at Sapelo Island, Gray’s Reef Marine Sanctuary, Marine Education Center and Aquarium, Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy and the Ossabaw Island Education Alliance.  The team will also work with the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Additionally, the team will work with six school districts including Bulloch County, Burke County, Camden County, Jenkins County, Treutlen County and Ware County.

“Our goal is to reignite the interest of students in science, technology, engineering and math by engaging them in applied learning through real-world challenges of environment and energy that are impacting their local communities,” said Mayes. “Ultimately, we hope to improve STEM achievement in Georgia and encourage students to pursue careers in STEM.”

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