Iowa State University Receives Funding for New STEM Program

The program, which incorporates professional skill training with thesis research, is the result of a half-a-million-dollar award the university received in December from the National Science Foundation.

by Kiley Wellendorf, Ames Tribune / February 18, 2020
A brand-new, first-in-the-nation graduate program, catered for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students, will be offered at Iowa State University beginning this July. Tribune file photo TNS

(TNS) — A first-in-the-nation graduate program, catered for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students, will be offered at Iowa State University beginning this July.

The program, which incorporates professional skill training with thesis research, is the result of a half-a-million-dollar award the university received in December from the National Science Foundation.

"I really hope this program can change the culture of how we approach the thesis and graduate education," said ISU assistant professor of materials science and engineering Shan Jiang, who wrote the grant and is also the principal investigator for the program.

The goal of this new program is to both improve professional skills for graduate students, and also improve graduate student job readiness and placement prior to graduation, according to information from the program.

"Our faculty (members) are doing a phenomenal job in the research program, but with graduate students, we want to be able to train them in their professional skills in a way that will have an impact on research and the preparation for the industry," said Gul Okudan Kremer, ISU's department chair for the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering.

The award — National Science Foundation Innovations in Graduate Education (IGE) — will help establish learning communities of "Graduates for Advancing Professional Skills" (GAPS), and also design training framework which incorporates project management skills from the industry into thesis research, according to Jiang.

The program will begin as a one-credit, three-year program offered to graduate students, Jiang said, and will also include learning communities where students can receive peer and mentor-support for their thesis by those in the industry. Students who voluntarily take part in this will add an extra hour of work onto their work, and the program will be flexible.

"I haven't seen anything like this (program) before," Jiang said.

According to Jiang, graduate students are too narrowly focused on their thesis research and studies show this later results in a lack of real-world professional skills, including communication, time management and presentation skills.

Researchers from this program anticipate, as a result of these learning communities, students will develop project management skills, skill retention and effectiveness in research activities, according to information from the program's proposal.

Five professors from ISU will take part in this program as principal and co-principal investigators, where their roles will range from designing the website to developing the curriculum, and also to testing the program's effectiveness for students.

Those involved include Jiang, Okudan Kremer, ISU assistant professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering Qing Lil, ISU assistant professor for the department of chemical and biological engineering Nigel Reuel, and ISU associate professor in the school of education Ann M. Gansemer-Topf.

"The project is really important," Okudan Kremer said. "The impact of graduate education in STEM disciplines, and in this particular area on engineering, is so fundamental that we do graduate education right, because it is a direct impact on the sustainment of innovation in engineering — not only for research enterprise, but for our impact on the industry."

©2020 the Ames Tribune, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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