IUPUI researchers to address complex educational challenges in STEM curricula

Release Date: 
Aug 11 2017

Kathy Marrs in a lecture hall with freshman studentsINDIANAPOLIS -- Researchers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis will address complex educational challenges in STEM curricula with financial support from a campus institute.

STEM Education Innovation and Research Institute, or SEIRI, recently awarded seven projects a total of $210,000 in the inaugural round of the SEIRI Seed Grant program.

Jie Chen, professor and chair in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the DOE Industrial Assessment Center in the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology, is the principal investigator for a project titled "Engineering-Science Intellectual Property Project." The goal is to provide IUPUI engineering students with a meaningful understanding about intellectual property, or IP.

Chen said the lack of IP knowledge among engineering students includes misunderstanding of what constitutes subject matter that can be protected, how to transform intellectual property that cannot be protected into something that can be and what results in the infringement of others' intellectual property.

"The ESIP-Project pilot program includes three elective courses that together initially create an IP concentration in an engineering B.S. curriculum at IUPUI. The long-term goal is creating an IP concentration in STEM curricula, with each course requiring a deep dive into IP concepts in STEM-related subject matter," said Hamid Piroozi, co-principal investigator and instructor of the IP courses. "In each of these courses, students will prepare designs in accordance with a new pedagogical approach of teaching STEM-related concepts that uses IP as a starting point, which can generate a transformational shift in STEM education and provide career-long benefits."

Piroozi said intellectual property generated by IUPUI students will be owned by the students. The project will be a student-based activity, with potential collaboration with the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Entrepreneurship Clinic.

"At the culmination of this pilot program, IUPUI students will be well-poised to take -- and pass -- the patent bar examination," Chen said. "Graduates will have new career options, including becoming patent engineers and patent agents, in addition to the traditional technical career choices, as well as a solid foundation for continuing to law school and other graduate programs."

Yogesh N. Joglekar, associate professor in the Department of Physics in the School of Science, and Gautam Vemuri, professor in the Department of Physics, are co-principal investigators for a project titled "Normalizing Computation in Undergraduate Physics Curriculum." The goal is to instill within IUPUI students a computational mindset when studying physics.

Joglekar said many students think physics is only theoretical, with no consequences to the real world. They also find it difficult to develop intuition for things they cannot see, like electromagnetic waves and the behavior of quantum particles.

"The traditional physics curriculum is dominated by examples whose primary strength is that they can be solved analytically," he said. "Modeling real-life applications requires a computational component. With repeated usage, that component can also develop intuition in the case of more abstract concepts."

Joglekar said the project will include computational modules in every course of the physics curriculum at IUPUI. Traditionally students take one course, usually optional, in computational methods. He said MATLAB will be adopted as the primary software used in the courses.

"This project will benefit all IUPUI physics students -- undergraduate majors and graduate students alike. By deepening the connection between physics and the real world, we may be able to increase the number of students choosing a physics major," he said. "Further, our students will graduate with a set of skills that goes beyond what is typically offered in a physics department and that will greatly benefit them regardless of the career they choose."

Kathleen A. Marrs, associate professor in the Department of Biology in the School of Science, is the principal investigator for a project titled "Research-Based Implementation of CUREs in Biology." Professor James Marrs and research assistant professor Swapnalee Sarmah are also part of the project. The goal is to increase undergraduate participation in authentic research, which could increase student retention and encourage students to pursue graduate education or careers in science.

"IUPUI involves many students in traditional mentored undergraduate research, but it can be difficult to accommodate large numbers," Marrs said. "A recent successful strategy to increase student involvement in undergraduate research is accomplished through course-based research experiences, or CUREs, in laboratory courses, where students work on authentic research questions related to faculty research interests. Due to the authentic nature of the research project, CUREs can produce novel results that are of broad interest to the scientific community."

Marrs said the project will encourage a departmental culture that is characterized by ongoing exploration, communication, and adoption of CUREs and other evidence-based instructional practices in biology labs. The department has already sent teams of faculty members to the National Academies Summer Institute for Undergraduate Education in Biology and the 2016 Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences Education conference.

"By asking IUPUI students to think about how to research compelling medical or societal challenges, our overall goal is to develop a unified departmental CURE model to address national goals to involve more undergraduates in authentic scientific research," she said.

"Ideally, each project will integrate the five dimensions of a CURE: broadly relevant and important work, use of scientific practices, collaboration, iteration in discovery research, and communication of scientific findings. In doing so, we expect to see significant gains in IUPUI students' ability to design experiments, analyze data and make scientific presentations, translating into high student satisfaction and enhanced learning."

Other principal investigators and projects that were awarded 2017 SEIRI Seed Grants are:

  • Eric Adams, Department of Mechanical Engineering, School of Engineering and Technology, "Increasing the Use and Effectiveness of Peer-Led Team Learning Workshops in Engineering."
  • Xiao Luo, Department of Computer Information Technology, School of Engineering and Technology, "Integrated Learning for Undergraduate Students in Computer Information Technology through Cross-Curricular Instruction Units and Projects: 'Cross-Curricular I-UP.'"
  • Robert Minto, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, School of Science, "Development of a Peer-Led Undergraduate Research Initiative (PLURI) Module in Organic Chemistry Teaching Laboratory."
  • Saptarshi Purkayastha, Department of BioHealth Informatics, School of Informatics and Computing, "Improving Engagement in Online Education Using Guided Inquiry Learning in the Health Information Management Courses."

Abstracts for all SSG projects awarded in 2017 can be found online.

Pratibha Varma-Nelson, professor of chemistry and SEIRI founding executive director, said the grant program gives faculty the opportunity to address key issues within their curriculum.

"The grants provide faculty within STEM departments seed funding for education, innovation and research," she said. "They also will enable faculty to be more competitive to receive external funding, such as from the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health."

Varma-Nelson said IUPUI researchers across all STEM disciplines submitted high-quality projects for the SEIRI Seed Grant program.

"My colleagues and I look forward to working with the principal investigators and other project personnel on each of the projects as they develop their ideas," she said.

The next grant solicitation will be in May 2018. As information about the upcoming solicitation becomes available, it will be posted on the SEIRI website. Questions should be sent to Varma-Nelson at .