Thanks to STEM Ready, a $4.9 million grant awarded to Mercy College last year from the U.S. Department of Education to support activities aimed at engaging and retaining Hispanic and low-income students in STEM subjects, the College is launching a pilot program of courses that have been redesigned to incorporate project-based learning (PBL) in STEM.
Devdutta Deb, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, serves as activity director for the course redesign component of the grant. “Project-based learning is a high-impact approach that gives students opportunities to engage in problem-solving challenges that reflect situations they may face in the real world,” said Deb. She added that PBL courses also help students develop critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication skills that are key to academic and career success.
The first year of the grant was devoted to setting up systems and training faculty in project-based learning in preparation to teach the new curriculum. “Faculty development is an important component of this grant,” said Deb. The pilot launched this fall in five introductory courses in biology, chemistry, psychology, computer science and cybersecurity. A common theme has been selected for considering projects through the lens of each discipline.
“Our theme is the community consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Deb explained. Projects will examine the theme as it relates to the environment, socio-economic impact, mental health, and security threats, among other issues. For example, biology classes will track viruses; chemistry students will study wastewater; and cybersecurity classes will explore multi-factor authentication.
The pilot will culminate in reports on findings and outcomes. “We expect many students to give oral presentations, and we may host a mini symposium open to the entire Mercy community. This kind of learning is so valuable. It gives students a better understanding of how to solve a range of problems they are likely to encounter throughout their lives.”