Inside Rensselaer
* Eglash Earns $2.9 Million NSF Grant To Support STEM Research
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Eglash Earns $2.9 Million NSF Grant To Support STEM Research
Rising concern about America’s ability to maintain its competitive position in the global economy has renewed interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. The challenge, according to Ron Eglash, associate professor of science and technology studies, is that minority students are often disinterested in STEM academics because they do not see its relevance to their own lives and communities.

To provide a solution, Eglash has received a five-year, $2.9 million National Science Foundation (NSF) research grant to support the development of “The Triple Helix” project that is dedicated to producing “civic scientists.” The grant will fund up to eight graduate fellows from Rensselaer, who will focus on STEM research projects related to community-based issues including health, the environment, poverty, crime, and information access within the Capital Region.

“The broader impacts of our project lie in the creation of a new pedagogy for producing socially responsible STEM, new avenues for delivering the benefits of STEM to under-served communities, and new methods of improving the teaching and learning of STEM topics by underrepresented students,” Eglash said. “Rather than a one-way ‘trickle-down’ of knowledge, we will explore the possibilities for a ‘triple helix’ collaboration between universities, GK-12, and community knowledge production as a way to engage disenfranchised students.”

“We call it a ‘triple helix’ to show that these three domains need to be intertwined and mutually supporting one another. And of course, since real DNA is self-replicating, we like to think that this approach could be replicated in other areas across the United States,” Eglash added.

This fall, the fellows, six from the School of Science and School of Engineering, and two from the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, will be placed in a collaborative teaching program with local middle schools serving low-income and minority communities in the Capital Region.

The grant also includes an international component, as Eglash, along with several of the faculty involved in the project, will travel to the field research site in Kumasi, Ghana, to see how their approach might be used in the country. The group also plans to bring back some teaching materials from Ghana for the Capital Region middle school students to make for more lively lessons in social science and other areas.

Rensselaer co-principal investigators of the project are: Jonathan Dordick, the Howard P. Isermann Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering; Audrey Bennett , associate professor in the Department of Language, Literature, and Communication, who will provide training for the graduate fellows in the use of graphic design for science education and work at the field research site in Ghana; and Daniel Stilson, middle school science curriculum leader for the Albany School District.

Other participating Rensselaer faculty advisers and departments include: David Hess, professor in STS and program director for ecological economics, values, and policy; Mukkai Krishnamoorthy, associate professor of computer science; Kim Lewis, assistant professor of physics; and several faculty from the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering including Professor Qiang Ji, Assistant Professor Shayla Sawyer, and Associate Professor Paul Schoch.
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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 4, Number 11, June 18, 2010
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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