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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pott College receives NSF grant of $1.2 million; to partner with Ivy Tech

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A National Science Foundation Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP) grant totaling $1.2 million to be distributed over the next five years will reinforce efforts by the University of Southern Indiana (USI) to strengthen interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The grant money will be used to create Southwestern Indiana Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics Initiative (SwISTEM). This initiative continues the effort which previously resulted in the naming of USI as the lead institution representing southwest Indiana in the Indiana STEM Resource Network. In partnering with Ivy Tech Community College, Southwest, USI will help the region and the state to develop a strong workforce with skills necessary to compete in the technology and science-based economy.

Dr. Scott Gordon, dean of the USI Pott College of Science and Engineering, will manage and administer the grant. Dr. Shelly Blunt, associate dean of the college, and Dr. Steven Combs, Ivy Tech professor and program chair of Manufacturing and Industrial Technology, will assist him. A SwISTEM Initiative coordinator, yet to be determined, will assist with daily operations

Dr. Gordon said, “This can become a regional solution to a national problem. We continue to see a shift from an economy anchored in traditional manufacturing to one grounded in technology-based advanced manufacturing, engineering, and physical and life sciences. As two state-supported universities, USI and ITCC have a responsibility to develop, educate, and train the next generation workforce.”

Dr. Gordon called the grant critical in jumpstarting the STEM initiatives necessary to prepare students for productive careers in STEM areas throughout Indiana. He has recently written, received, and served as director for three major grants related to teaching and learning in the STEM areas. Dr. Gordon added, “This award, accompanied with the naming of USI as the southwest Indiana STEM Resource Center and the recent Workforce Innovation and Regional Economic Development (WIRED) initiative will put this region on the map in terms of STEM education and workforce development.”

“We are pleased to partner with USI on this initiative, said Ivy Tech Chancellor Dan Schenk. “Ultimately, this grant will provide the opportunity for even more students in the area to earn degrees and pursue careers in science and technology.”

The SwISTEM Initiative proposes four components in the program to reach a wide audience and have broad impact. The program will engage students, teachers, parents, and community representatives in outreach and involvement, offer an undergraduate research program, and provide professional development for K-16 teachers.

The fourth part, called Pathways Leading to Undergraduate Success in the Sciences (PLUSS) will offer assistance to students who are marginally prepared for undergraduate courses in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Those students will get help with content knowledge, preparation, study skills, and adjustment to college coursework.

Dr. Gordon said, “Many of these students are capable of completing STEM degrees if given opportunities to strengthen their foundational knowledge. Often students enter universities with minimal background in STEM courses due to limited resources for STEM education, little or no technology available to them, and no understanding of the importance of taking as much high school mathematics and science as possible. Students with such backgrounds can be successful in the STEM areas and will benefit by following pathways tailored to their needs and goals.”

The two schools have a record of successful partnership: joint academic programs between the institutions, presence of Ivy Tech Community College students in USI housing, presence of faculty from each institution on both campuses, memberships on each other’s advisory groups, and the presence of Nancy Dauby, USI admission coordinator, on the Ivy Tech Community College campus to help students transition from a community college system to a four-year undergraduate program.

Regional businesses, industry, and educational entities are knowledgeable and supportive of the initiatives of SwISTEM.

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