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Engineering, Education Collaboration to Benefit Local Schools:
National Science Foundation Funding Supports Innovative Teaching

Date: June 11, 2002
By: Chris Curran
Phone: (513) 556-1806
Photos by: Colleen Kelley and Dottie Stover
Archive: General News

Want to reduce traffic congestion? Find a better way to make safe drinking water? Examine pollution's impact on the Little Miami River?

Local school students may soon get to tackle all of these problems and more under a joint project between the College of Engineering and the College of Education.

UC College of Engineering

The National Science Foundation awarded the colleges a three-year, $1.38 million grant for a collaborative project aimed at improving math, science and technology education in eight Greater Cincinnati schools. Nationally, NSF will provide $21 million to support similar programs. UC was the only university in Ohio to receive funding under this initiative.

The grant is part of the NSF's GK-12 Fellows Program and is called Project STEP (Science and Technology Enhancement Program), and the principal investigator is Anant Kukreti, department head in civil and environmental engineering.

"We're not out to reform the curriculum, but to enrich it," said Kukreti, who explained that teams of UC graduate and undergraduate students will work directly with more than 20 local teachers to develop new activities, simulations and projects based on problems they see in their own communities.

"I strongly feel to make engineering and math more interesting, we need to bring in community-based problems. Those are the type of problems we solve, and it's more meaningful," said Kukreti.

"The idea is both exciting and innovative," said Engineering Dean Stephen Kowel. "It will create high school curricula that will maintain the solid mathematical and scientific knowledge base, but integrate hands-on, real-world and more meaningful experiences."

Anant Kukreti and Erin Thompson with earthquake simulator

For example, a summer NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program included the development of an earthquake simulator. It demonstrated how smaller buildings are sometimes destroyed by an earthquake while large buildings survive nearly intact. The simulator required advanced technical knowledge, but the concepts are simple enough to explain to a middle school student. Use of such hands-on models will be made in Project STEP.

There will be 17 fellows in Engineering and Education, including nine graduate fellows and eight undergraduate fellows. The public schools included cover a range of geographic and ethnic diversity. "We need to see what works in different settings," said Kukreti. "It's a showcase project."

Each graduate fellow will receive an annual stipend of $21,500 plus an educational allowance of $10,500 and up to $15,000 per year to cover graduate tuition. Each undergraduate fellow will receive a stipend of $10,000.

There should be a number of side benefits from Project STEP. Undergraduates may decide to go to graduate school after working closely with students already pursuing advanced degrees. Graduate students will be better prepared to teach, and the secondary school students might be tempted to pursue engineering careers themselves. "It's a golden opportunity to see what engineering is all about."

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