Tuskegee University has been awarded a $700,000 collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to enhance STEM learning among local high school students. The project is entitled “Building Unique Inventions to Launch Discoveries, Engagement and Reasoning in STEM” (“BUILDERS”), whose focus is to enable innovative technology experiential learning for high school students over the next three summers in an Academy setting. The project, which is led by Tuskegee University, partners Oakland University, the school districts of Macon and Phenix City and the Tuskegee University Engineering Alumni Association (TUEAA). Dr. Mohammed A. Qazi, Professor of Mathematics, College of Arts and Sciences, at Tuskegee University serves as the Principal Investigator and Project Director of the grant.
As the BUILDERS acronym suggests, participating students (called “BUILDERS Scholars”) will be engaged in “building.” Under the mentorship of teacher participants and faculty members from Tuskegee and Oakland Universities, scholars at the Academy will work in clusters on problems that are prevalent in communities around the world to make inexpensive and portable prototypes of working products that will serve as solutions. Lack of safe water, metal detection in food, and toxin testing are examples of community problems that Scholar teams will explore. In doing so, Scholars will use commonly available and low cost materials to design the water filtration systems, metal detectors, and toxin detection units that will address these problems. In the process, scholars will learn about the concepts from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) that are needed to make these products do what they are supposed to.
"We are thrilled with the leadership of our faculty, particularly Dr. Qazi who has consistently led similar efforts," said Tuskegee University President Dr. Brian L. Johnson.
“Students in schools and in colleges are taught STEM topics in siloed courses, often through dry lectures, making learning uninteresting. Moreover, there is little emphasis on the interconnectivity of these concepts. Our “Learning STEM by Making” approach through the BUILDERS grant is a more engaging and fun way for students to learn STEM concepts. Students will actually discover STEM concepts as they work on their inventions, thus able to internalize them better,” said Dr. Qazi.
Dr. Michael Curry, Associate Professor of Chemistry and a BUILDERS Co-Principal Investigator, who has used the “Making” concept extensively in his Chemistry courses, adds that “Engaging students in STEM fields has emerged as a national priority due to current forecasts have shown a need for millions more workers with STEM skills. Thus, we must explore new ways to equip our students with the necessary skills required to enter into the STEM workforce. Under the NSF funded BUILDERS grant, the MAKERS concept will be used to create an interdisciplinary climate that promotes the importance of being innovative and equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to solve tough problems.” Other Co-PIs from Tuskegee include Dr. Mohamed O. Abdalla, Dr. Alicia Curry, Dr. Shaik Zainuddin.
The BUILDERS Academy will take place on Tuskegee University campus and will host 50 students from the 10th-12th grade along with several of their STEM teachers annually. As the Scholars will investigate their community related problems, teachers will prepare lesson plans based on their observations at the Academy to infuse in their teaching of select STEM concepts during the school year. “The work that the teachers will be doing is extremely critical to the broader impacts of the project in terms of impacting students beyond those who participate in the Academy, many of whom belong to groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in STEM, such as certain minorities and girls,” according to Dr. Qazi.
Oakland University, located in Michigan will play a very important role in the project in understanding the impact of the “Learning by Making” model for its effectiveness in promoting knowledge of STEM and interest among participating students.
Dr. C. S. Prakash, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences adds that “This project underscores the tremendous service Tuskegee University faculty are performing in using their expertise to assist the local communities in a vital area of high national priority. I am very proud of our faculty including the leadership of Dr. Qazi.”