Integrated Quantitative Science: A Multi-Disciplinary Course

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Title of Abstract: Integrated Quantitative Science: A Multi-Disciplinary Course

Name of Author: April Hill
Author Company or Institution: University of Richmond
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses, STEM disciplines
Course Levels: Faculty Development, Introductory Course(s), Multi-disciplinary
Approaches: Mixed Approach
Keywords: Multi-disciplinary, integrated, quantitative, undergraduate research, theme-based course

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Based on the idea that solving our most challenging global problems will require collaborations among multiple disciplines, and aligning with core concepts and competencies outlined in V&C, we designed Integrated Quantitative Science, a yearlong course integrating first semester concepts in biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, and physics supported by a grant from the HHMI. The main goal for IQS was to engage students through and integrated and interdisciplinary course and to enable them to solve real-world problems using multiple methods including quantitative and research approaches. We also wanted to increase the number of students pursuing cross-disciplinary research opportunities at Richmond and beyond. Another goal was to increase interdisciplinary understanding and collaboration among faculty.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: To leverage the expertise of participating faculty, and to allow for a broad range of interdisciplinary topics, we selected antibiotic resistance and communication/cell signaling as themes for each semester of the course during the first four years. A variety of student-centered pedagogies were used throughout the course. From the perspective of the biological sciences, it seems clear that one key way to achieve goals of the V&C Call to Action is through collaboration with our colleagues in the other STEM disciplines. To this end, students and faculty collaborated on research projects within the course that utilized methods and approaches from more than one discipline.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: We have taken several approaches to evaluation including use of the RISC survey, course-embedded assessments and rubrics, as well as student evaluations and interviews of student and faculty participants by outside assessment specialists. We have documented these efforts including several publications, presentations at meetings and workshops, and web materials.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: This course has provided an incredibly valuable opportunity for students that come in with a strong background in the sciences, and want to learn in an interdisciplinary fashion. In addition, it has provided the involved faculty with a way to explore different pedagogies, interdisciplinary approaches to their teaching in other courses, and well as pursue some new interdisciplinary areas of scholarship. To encourage students to pursue interdisciplinary science past their first year, we have designed an Integrated Science (IS) minor. This minor includes IQS, a sophomore level research training seminar, research (a funded summer research experience is guaranteed the summer following IQS), upper division interdisciplinary courses (e.g., Biological Imaging, Mathematical Models in Biology/Medicine, Bioinformatics, Systems Biology, Eco-Epidemiology), and a capstone senior seminar. More than 70% of the IQS students have completed the sophomore level research-training seminar. The majority of IQS students have continued undergraduate research beyond the first funded summer and this past year the first IQS class graduated. All but two of those students were STEM majors and more than half will attend graduate programs in science or medicine. At least 4 will be pursuing interdisciplinary degree programs.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: An unintended consequence of our IQS program was that because it required students to have a strong STEM skill set upon entering college, the course excluded a population of students who we would have liked to benefit from this kind of experience. Because of this, we expanded our efforts across the institution with a new HHMI award that will prepare a diverse group of future leaders in science and medicine. The centerpiece is URISE: University of Richmond Integrated Science Experience, a comprehensive program combining early and extensive undergraduate research with an emphasis on interdisciplinary STEM education. URISE aims to remove barriers that impede the persistence, retention, and success of students in STEM disciplines and builds on the strengths of our programs. Our vision for URISE is to channel our resources to purposefully expand opportunities to a diverse group of students, so that all who are interested in majoring in STEM disciplines are provided with the tools they need to succeed - both as undergraduates and in postgraduate STEM pursuits. To this end, we designed a highly mentored program supporting traditionally underrepresented STEM students from the summer before their first year to their senior year, and beyond. After a five-week pre-freshman summer experience, URISE students will take four units of integrated science in their first year - a revised and more sustainable version of IQS if they have a strong science and math background, or a newly designed course (SMART: Science, Math and Research Training) if they do not. We will focus on developing students’ core STEM competencies through exploration across disciplinary boundaries. We will also provide UR STEM students with opportunities to learn through the continuation of mentored and outcome-oriented research experiences, introduced early and extensively throughout their education.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We plan to present at regional and national meetings as well as publish additional manuscripts about the URISE and SMART programs.

Acknowledgements: Lisa Gentile, Carol Parish, Ellis Bell, Will Case, Krista Stenger, Ovidiu Lipan, Mirela Fetea, Barry Lawson, Doug Szajda, Lewis Barnett, Lester Caudill, Michael Kerckhove, Chip Hoke and Kathy Hoke