Westminster Awarded Grant to Diversify STEM Education

Jun 3, 2014

June 19, 2014 Westminster Awarded Grant to Diversify STEM Education New computer science course designed with diversity and versatility in mind SALT LAKE CITY - Westminster is one of 20 institutions selected for a national initiative called Teaching to Increase Diversity and Equity in STEM (TIDES). As a TIDES school, Westminster received a $285,731 grant to increase diversity in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. Computer science professor Helen Hu will use the grant to create innovative new course combinations that are designed to excite freshmen about the versatility of technology.   The Association of American Colleges & Universities awarded the grant to Westminster based on the following criteria:  
  • High level of institutional readiness;
  • Demonstrated commitment to sustaining project activities;
  • Targeted focus on increasing the number of women and underrepresented minorities in the undergraduate computer/information science disciplines; and
  • Innovation in linking computer/information sciences with other STEM and non-STEM courses.
  The goals of TIDES are to develop and implement curricula that will enhance underrepresented STEM student interest and empower STEM faculty to adopt culturally sensitive pedagogies. Hu will use the TIDES grant to introduce an engaging computer science course, titled Computer Science Principles, to Westminster College. This course emphasizes the creative and problem solving aspects of computer science, and is appropriate for students with no prior programming experience.   "Every student, regardless of major or career path, needs to have some basic knowledge of computer science," said Hu. "This course will help students learn which types of problems are easy for computers to solve, and which problems are difficult. That's becoming essential knowledge for anyone in the 21st century."   This new course will first be offered in Spring 2015 as part of a biology-computer science Learning Community. Westminster Learning Communities pair two traditionally different subject areas around a common theme and are a requirement for all first-year students. Students who select this new Learning Community will learn to develop apps for their Android devices while discovering how computing drives innovation in genetics and other fields.   Professors Helen Hu and Brian Avery will teach the new biology-computer science Learning Community using Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL), a student-centered method that emphasizes collaboration. Rather than listening to a professor lecture about the material, Westminster students will discover biology and computer science concepts for themselves while working together on POGIL activities. The POGIL exercises include real-world applications that students can relate to.   Over the next two years, the TIDES grant will also fund the development of additional Learning Communities: a chemistry-computer science pairing in Fall 2015 and a sociology-computer science pairing in Fall 2016.   "I'm hopeful that these Learning Communities will attract a wide range of students interested in making an impact on the world," said Hu.   The TIDES initiative is funded with a $4.9 million grant to AAC&U from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. Visit www.aacu.org/pkal/tides for more information about the TIDES project.

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About Westminster

Westminster is a private, independent, and comprehensive college in Salt Lake City, Utah. Students experience the liberal arts blended with professional programs in an atmosphere dedicated to civic engagement. With the goal of enabling its graduates to live vibrant, just, and successful lives, Westminster provides transformational learning experiences for both undergraduate and graduate students in a truly student-centered environment. Faculty focus on teaching, learning, and developing distinctive, innovative programs, while students thrive on Westminster’s urban Sugar House campus within minutes of the Rocky Mountains.

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