Montclair State University Researchers Receive NSF INCLUDES Award

Collaborative project to develop paths to STEM success for underrepresented groups

Industries, universities and research centers increasingly depend on skilled STEM workers to grow the economy and meet national priorities. Montclair State University researchers have received an NSF INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) grant to expand STEM opportunities for historically underrepresented low-income, minority and women students.

A two-year grant of $300,000 funds the NSF INCLUDES Design and Development Launch Pilot, “Sustainability Teams Empower and Amplify Membership in STEM” (S-TEAMS). Nested within the University’s PSEG Institute of Sustainability Studies’ Green Teams program that is offered in partnership with New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability (NJHEPS). S-TEAMS will promote collaborative STEM change that increases diversity among public-private partners.

“Transdisciplinary teamwork is a proven way to foster critical thinking and problem-solving,” said Lora Billings, interim dean of Montclair State’s College of Science and Mathematics. “By targeting underrepresented groups across the entire spectrum of STEM education, this program provides a supportive path into the growing field of sustainability science for an untapped group of students.”

Montclair State’s team includes Principal Investigator (PI) Amy Tuininga, director of the University’s PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies, as well as Co-PI Earth and Environmental Studies professor and PSEG Institute Associate Director Pankaj Lal. Ramapo College of New Jersey Environmental Studies Professor and NJHEPS President Ashwani Vasishth also serves as a Co-PI.

Sustainability science programs, which touch on a full spectrum of scientific disciplines, offer new opportunities to students from underrepresented groups. “We will test how barriers to STEM retention of underrepresented groups is broken down by a sense of inclusion built through teamwork and by developing peer networks among STEM disciplines,” said Lal. Working in supportive teams, participating students will gain hands-on experience in problem solving and teamwork. Montclair State’s partnership with NJHEPS will additionally support program goals.

“The PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies is pleased to be funded by NSF INCLUDES and to partner with NJHEPS to offer transdisciplinary sustainability training to students from a variety of academic institutions,” said Tuininga. “Students in S-TEAMS will deliver projects to corporations and municipalities in summer 2018, while learning about teamwork, sustainability, professionalism and service to their communities.”

According to Tuininga, the award will also accelerate the growth of the Institute’s innovative, overarching summer Green Teams internship program, which places students with leading corporations and community organizations to help solve pressing sustainability issues. “This award will benefit students from underrepresented groups while growing productive academic-corporate community partnerships,” she noted.

The STEM INCLUDES grant is one of several new grants awarded to researchers at Montclair State, which was recently designated a public research university by the State of New Jersey. These awards include a STEM+C award (LINK) integrate computational and mathematical thinking into earth and environmental teaching and learning for grades 5, 6 and 7. Learn more about funded research initiatives at http://www.montclair.edu/forward-thinking/.