photo of MSU students in a laboratory

The MSU STEM Educational Alliance recently held its fall meeting and reception, an occasion which marks the beginning of the fourth year of this organization devoted to improving STEM education at MSU.

On Thursday, Sept. 1, the MSU STEM Educational Alliance held its fall meeting and reception, an occasion which marks the beginning of the fourth year of this organization devoted to improving STEM education – especially in the crucial gateway STEM courses – at MSU. The STEM Alliance is a collaboration across the STEM disciplines in the four undergraduate STEM colleges (the Colleges of Natural Science, Engineering, Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Lyman Briggs College), as well as the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, and the Create for STEM Institute.

The goal of the STEM Alliance is to create a faculty and staff learning community in the area of college-level STEM education, and to connect those doing research on Discipline-Based Education Research (DBER), those interested in the scholarship of teaching and learning, those interested in scholarly teaching, and with those interested in continuing faculty development in teaching and learning in MSU STEM colleges. The Alliance connects faculty, academic staff, and advisors, and has cultivated links with Science and Society at State science studies group.

The presentations at this workshop focused on work in chemistry which was part of the MSU AAU and  Howard Hughes Medical Institute STEM education projects. The workshop began with an overview by Melanie Cooper of the theoretical framework underlying the work on STEM education at MSU: the three-dimensional approach advocated in the Next Generation Science Standards, focused on the core concepts, science practices, and cross-cutting ideas that it is essential for every student to learn in a given STEM class. After facultyclearly define these outcomes, they employ pedagogical practices and assessments aligned with these outcomes. Then, based on the results, they iterate to improve student learning and success in the class.

Melanie showed compelling data to demonstrate the efficacy of this three-dimensional learning approach in introductory chemistry, CEM 141/142 at MSU, based on the CLUE curriculum she and her collaborator have developed. Justin Carmel, a postdoc in Melanie’s group, then followed with a description of the chemistry lab transformation that has been undertaken in CEM 161/162. Justin described the revised lab curriculum, based on Cooperative Chemistry, which employs student teams to complete multi-week projects, therefore focusing on science practices, rather than the “cookbook” labs often found in traditional introductory laboratory courses. Justin showed how the new laboratory curriculum demonstrably incorporated a wide spectrum of science practices and, perhaps more interestingly, led students to appreciate chemistry better.

I had the honor of giving the introduction and welcome to the group at this meeting. In preparing, I reflected on helping to welcome almost 8,000 incoming Freshman to MSU on Monday (Aug. 29th). I was reminded that students don’t come to MSU to interact with the administration, and they don’t get degrees from the Provost’s office. They come here to be members of the MSU Spartan community, and to learn from faculty, academic staff, and advisors. The work of Melanie, Justin, their collaborators, and of the STEM Alliance (and other groups of MSU educators across campus) in advancing the effectiveness of our teaching and improving student learning is absolutely essential.

I look forward to seeing what our MSU STEM Educational Alliance colleagues do in the future!

Feedback and suggestions, especially from the MSU community, welcome: email

R. Sekhar Chivukula is the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Michigan State University.