September 9, 2016

National Science Foundation awards $1.2 million grant to influence Detroit Public School students' interest in STEM

Wayne State University has received a nearly $1.2 million award from the National Science Foundation for a project led by School of Medicine Professor of Physiology Jeffrey Ram, Ph.D., that aims to impact minority students' interest in science, technology, engineering and math-related careers.

"Promoting Student Interest in Science and Science Careers through a Scalable Place-based Environmental Educational Program at a Public Aquarium," will train 90 Detroit Public Schools teachers in biological STEM areas related to fisheries, wildlife, conservation and aquatic sciences. More than 2,300 fifth-graders from DPS will benefit by participating in field trips to the Belle Isle Aquarium and follow-up activities during a three-year period.

The goal of Dr. Ram's diverse research interests focus on science to serve and preserve the value and beauty of the Great Lakes, including providing a factual base for future action and an inventive spirit in finding solutions to biological and environmental problems. The Belle Isle Aquarium includes Dr. Ram's displays on invasive species and a field laboratory set up by the Ram laboratory and the WSU Healthy Urban Waters Initiative.

Interest in STEM-related fields by minority students has been low — particularly among African-American and Latino students — despite intense drives to encourage students to study science. Fifth grade is a critical age in which decisions for lifelong science-related career choices are formed, said Dr. Ram, the principal investigator of the program.

"Our goal is to increase interest, knowledge and activity choices of students in ways that promote science education and STEM career choices among minority youth," Dr. Ram said. "By providing them with learning opportunities at the Belle Isle Aquarium, we hope to spark more excitement in STEM areas they may not have considered, with interesting follow-on learning opportunities to aid in maintaining their interest and knowledge."

Workshops for teachers are intended to inspire them to achieve their fifth-grade curricular goals through activities at a community-based institution. The program will measure teachers' confidence and teaching practices as they strive to achieve a lasting impact on their students. The program will also measure the impact of the field trips on students' attitudes toward STEM and STEM-related careers, along with their change in knowledge of science concepts and attitudes toward STEM and STEM-related careers.

"By involving students in science-related activities on Belle Isle and in their schools, we expect to significantly impact teaching practices and student learning in STEM-related fields. Overall, the project will create exciting communities of learning centered on the Belle Isle Aquarium that are intended to far outlast the lifetime of the grant," Dr. Ram added.

The award number for this grant is 1614187.