Success Leads to
Second Innovative STEM Lab Course

STEM student measuring light source in lab “Introduction to Spectroscopy”

Central to the CSM strategic plan, is the goal “to fully develop and implement an innovative transdisciplinary curriculum,” said Dean John Leyba. Developing this curriculum began five years ago with a transdisciplinary STEM Lab course. “One of the reasons for beginning this course was to improve retention of STEM students through to graduation. The retention results and feedback from students and faculty have been positive.”

With this success, “we are excited to now add a second transdisciplinary course this fall, leading to a year-long STEM lab curriculum,” said Leyba. “The course is designed with a real world approach to teach students critical thinking skills and how to deal with multiple facets of science disciplines.

A strong undergraduate research component has been added to the curriculum, knowing hands-on research is a high impact practice for retention in STEM fields.” Leyba explained. To further align with today’s high-demand STEM careers, students will develop and submit a research proposal which can begin after completing the STEM lab course.

Social distancing STEM team members collect and analyze data.

“This transdisciplinary STEM lab provided significant learning experiences for both students and faculty,” said Dr. Sarah Formica, Fuller E. Callaway Professor of physics and lead for the STEM lab. “The students engaged in real scientific research on big ideas rather than individual disciplines. The faculty broke out of their specific disciplines to create curriculum and teach this transdisciplinary lab and the students learned to be researchers.”

Formica and Dr. Margaret Smith, associate professor of biology and recently named a National Science Foundation ASCEND Faculty Fellow, have been instructors in this lab since its inception. This year, they will be joined by Dr. Jeremy Olson, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and John Indergaard, physics lab coordinator.

“Both STEM Lab 1001 and 1002 are designed to mirror real world working labs,” Smith said.  “Our faculty are together, teaching, discussing, and problem-solving with students. Right before our eyes we see students grow in their understanding of how the science disciplines work together. Science doesn’t happen in a bubble, and the need to work with others while maintaining rigorous standards is important.”

Leyba said, “Another critical and important part of our approach to STEM education is a new STEM building, designed to offer the highest quality active-learning environment.” A modern and innovative STEM facility will meet the needs of UNG’s growing student body, where more than 14% of entering freshman are STEM majors. 

UNG is currently raising funds for this new building which will provide flex­ible, immersive spaces needed for student engagement across the STEM fields. It is a top University priority to serve the mission of educating STEM students from North Georgia’s 30 counties.

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