MSU part of national effort to reform science, math education

July 8, 2013
Photo by Kurt Stepnitz, MSU Communications and Brand Strategy

Photo by Kurt Stepnitz, MSU Communications and Brand Strategy

Michigan State University is one of eight sites across the country selected by the Association of American Universities to host a project designed to improve science and math education.

MSU was among 31 institutions vying to be project sites for the initiative. The project will work to improve the quality of undergraduate education in science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM disciplines.

“It’s only fitting that MSU is a site for this initiative, as we are a recognized national leader in STEM education,” said Melanie Cooper, the Lappan-Phillips Professor of Science Education, who is leading the university’s role in the project. “We’re confident our contribution will make a difference for thousands of students who are interested in science, math and technology.”

In addition, MSU’s James Fairweather is serving as co-principal investigator of the overall project for AAU. He is a professor of Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education in the College of Education.

Specifically, MSU will focus on reforming the so-called “gateway” courses within STEM. These are usually the introductory courses that are prerequisites for all STEM majors, and are generally lecture courses with large enrollments and little student participation.

“There is a great deal of evidence that many students are turned off by these courses or, at best, look at them as a hurdle,” said Cooper. “In addition, students often emerge from these courses without a meaningful understanding of important concepts and how to use them.”

Teams of faculty from the various STEM disciplines will come together to reform these courses. “This will help to emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of modern science,” Cooper said.

These faculty will be recipients of a new STEM education fellowship, supported by MSU and the AAU funds. Their involvement in this project is part of a plan to promote a university culture that values faculty contributions to teaching, research and scholarship.

The AAU initiative is funded by a three-year, $4.7 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. The grant enabled the association to develop the initiative framework, as well as provide $500,000 in seed money to each project site over the next three years.

“We have reached an exciting milestone in our initiative,” said AAU President Hunter Rawlings. “With the strong support provided by the Helmsley Trust, these eight project sites will each begin – or in some cases continue – to institutionalize evidence-based teaching in STEM fields. These changes will make teaching and learning far more interactive and participatory, and we hope will enhance overall student learning in STEM fields and reduce the number of students who choose to drop out of these majors.”


The AAU is an association of 60 U.S. and two Canadian research universities organized to develop and implement effective national and institutional policies supporting research and scholarship, graduate and professional education, undergraduate education and public service in research universities.

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aspires to improve lives by supporting effective nonprofits in a variety of selected areas. Since 2008, when the Trust began its active grant making, it has committed more than $900 million to a wide range of charitable organizations. Through its National Education Program, the Trust views education as a lever to advance both American economic competitiveness and individual social mobility.

In K-12, the Trust focuses on ensuring all students graduate high school prepared for college or careers by supporting teacher effectiveness and the implementation of high academic standards. In postsecondary education, the Trust is primarily interested in increasing the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematic graduates who can participate in high growth sectors of the economy. The Trust also focuses on policy levers that improve postsecondary completion, particularly for underrepresented populations. For more information, please visit