NSF Awards Recognize Comprehensive Reform Of Undergraduate Education

August 19, 1997

University of California-Irvine leaders have decided that their existing mathematics and science curriculums are no longer adequate to prepare students to meet the needs of modern society.

From that seemingly simple and straightforward proposition, U.C.-Irvine is about to embark on an ambitious strategy to modernize its teaching. The university will infuse technology into all teaching, forging partnerships with professional associations, and create a series of interdisciplinary curricula.

These ground-breaking changes and institutional commitment led the National Science Foundation to include U.C.-Irvine among 19 colleges and universities to receive monetary awards in the second year of the agency's Institution-Wide Reform of Undergraduate Education (IR) initiative.

"U.C.-Irvine has made the kind of commitment to comprehensively restructure, not merely tinker, at the margins of reform, which is what the IR initiative is about," said Luther S. Wiliams, who heads NSF's education and human resources directorate.

The UC-Irvine initiative is among many of the progressive changes being made by two and four-year institutions that NSF is recognizing through awards of up to $200,000 in the second year of the IR initiative.

Florida A&M University, for example, is an awardee for developing a multidisciplinary science course for non-science majors and creating a faculty professional development initiative that emphasizes effective use of technology.

At Millikin University, a small school in Decatur, Ill., introductory science courses and related labs will link the study of biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics to other scientific and technological disciplines. The school will also require students to teach a class in local K-12 schools.

"The problems of the future will be very complex and they will require interdisciplinary approaches and solutions," Norman Fortenberry, who heads NSF's division of undergraduate education, points out. "At too many institutions, there is not a mechanism for faculty to work with their counterparts in other disciplines, nor to team-teach across disciplines."

NSF launched the IR initiative in 1996 to reward institutions that have made significant improvements in the quality of undergraduate education and are now prepared to introduce sweeping changes to extend those innovations to benefit all students. The changes reflect the institutions' response to the new demands faced by undergraduates to succeed in a highly technological society.

Williams said the IR initiative addresses serious national deficiencies in undergraduate education that were highlighted in a report, Shaping the Future: New Expectations for Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology. NSF published the report last summer.

The IR awards complement another NSF initiative, the Recognition Awards for the Integration of Research and Education (RAIRE), which provided $500,000 grants to 10 research-intensive universities for their commitments to blending their research and education programs. RAIRE recognizes the prior achievements of large research universities, says Williams, while the IR intiative is open to all institutions that enroll undergraduate students and focuses on planned new programs to improve education in math, science and engineering.

Awards for Institution-wide Reform of Undergraduate Education
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.