The College of Science and Mathematics at the University of West Georgia received over $1 million in grant awards from the Georgia Space Grant Consortium-NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Math and Science Partnership of the Georgia Department of Education, all during September.
The Georgia Space Grant Consortium-NASA awarded a $21,000 grant to Dr. Ben De Mayo, UWG professor emeritus of physics, in the following areas: undergraduate research into the physical properties of Nano-materials; in-school (K-12) presentations and NASA-related resources for local area science teachers; community-wide public programs such as Physics Demo Night and digital planetarium astronomy presentations; and conducting a public rocket launch and paper airplane contest as part of “West Georgia Reads.”
Physics Demo Night, an event that is free and open to the public, will take place on Friday, October 25, at 7 p.m. at UWG’s Crider Lecture Hall. The Halloween themed event will include demonstrations of booms, flames, high voltages, a cannon, hot dog cooking and freezing, Newton’s laws, smoke bubbles and more. In addition to reaching into the community through interesting and educational events, the grant also serves to provide students with exceptional research opportunities.
“Last year, four excellent student researchers investigated magnetism and superconductivity and presented their work at the Georgia Academy of Science annual meeting at Valdosta State University and at UWG,” says Dr. De Mayo. “The research of these undergraduate students has been instrumental to their education and this grant will ensure the continuation of this undergraduate research. This year the students will be investigating the physical properties of high-temperature superconductors and powdered Nano-materials, and the usage of these materials in the space program.” De Mayo has received a space grant every year since 1993.
The National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency created by Congress, has awarded three substantial grants to the University of West Georgia College of Science and Mathematics. These three grants, specifically the WIDER, REU and GALSAMP grants, total to over $700,000 and represent significant advancement and opportunity for UWG and its students in undergraduate research and STEM disciplines, more commonly known as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The WIDER grant stands for Widening Implementation and Demonstration of Evidence-based Reforms. Specifically, the overarching goals of this grant at UWG are to facilitate the creation of a shared vision across the STEM disciplines for using evidence-based teaching and learning practices to improve student learning, increase the number of majors, increase retention and increase timely graduation, and furthermore to create a plan to institutionalize this vision.
“Of considerable interest are common pedagogical approaches that work in achieving student success in the closely related STEM disciplines, widely acknowledged as very challenging by both educators and students,” says Dr. Farooq A. Khan, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics and an author of the WIDER grant. “It is anticipated that, as a result of these efforts, the university will be better able to meet the demands for graduates in STEM fields who can contribute to the economic growth of the state of Georgia and beyond.”
Policymakers at both federal and state levels have recognized the critical importance of preparing professionals in these disciplines because of the key role they play in the economy.
“A recent study conducted by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology calls for the addition of one million more STEM graduates over the next ten years,” says Dr. Charles H. Maris, UWG associate vice president for research and sponsored projects. “The WIDER grant will enable our faculty to adopt the best pedagogical teaching practices, which should increase retention of undergraduates within STEM majors.”
In addition to Dr. Khan, Dr. Swamy Mruthinti, Dr. Anne Gaquere, Dr. Scott Sykes, all professors in the College of Science and Mathematics, and Dr. Cher Hendricks, the recently appointed director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, authored the WIDER grant, which is funded for two years in the total amount of $250,000. They will facilitate the work of a team of 10 faculty members, drawn from each of the six departments of the College of Science and Mathematics.
Dr. Mruthinti, UWG associate dean for research and faculty development in the College of Science and Mathematics, is also the campus coordinator for the GALSAMP grant, or Georgia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. UWG is a partner of the nine-member alliance including Clark Atlanta University, Georgia State University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Atlanta Metropolitan College, Paine College, Drake State Technical College and Lawson State University.
The GALSAMP grant focuses on the increase of underrepresented minorities, including African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians, receiving STEM baccalaureate degrees, with a total award across the alliance for $3.5 million over five years. The portion granted to UWG will equal approximately $250,000 over five years, providing 16 scholarships to STEM majors at UWG for each of the five years.
“The rationale for focusing on underrepresented minorities in STEM fields is logical,” said Dr. Mruthinti, who is also directing UWise, a STEM initiative funded by the Georgia Board of Regents. “This group is a sizable, about 34 percent of the UWG student body, growing and largely untapped pool of potential talent. These students, provided with appropriate training and support, hold great promise for revitalizing the STEM workforce in the USA.”
The third grant recently funded by the NSF is the REU, or Research Experiences for Undergraduates, grant. This three-year $230,000 grant, authored by Dr. Bruce Landman and Dr. Abdollah Khodkar, will provide a total of 24 undergraduate students, eight each year, with their first opportunity to engage in research projects.
“REU grants are a tremendous way to engage undergraduate students in faculty-mentored research in a meaningful hands-on way,” said Dr. Maris. “This program will be advertised nationally by the National Science Foundation and will bring undergraduate mathematics students to our campus for eight weeks in the summer for the next three years to conduct high-quality mathematics research.”
Dr. Landman and Dr. Khodkar facilitated an REU at the University of West Georgia from 2007 to 2009 that resulted in seven student-written research articles published in highly respected mathematics journals. Several of these students also went on to study for their doctorate in their respective fields.
Dr. Khodkar, a specialist in the mathematical area of graph theory, has published over one hundred papers in his field, and has an abundance of unsolved mathematical problems that are appropriate for the undergraduate student. Dr. Landman is the author of the book "Ramsey Theory on the Integers," which is written for the purpose of providing students with an introduction to mathematical research and to get them started on their own research work. The book is filled with unexplored research problems in combinatorial number theory.
"Both graph theory and combinatorial number theory are ideally suited for the undergraduate student to begin the exploration into the world of mathematical research, as very minimal background is needed to understand the nature of the problems and to begin tackling them," said Dr. Landman. “These are relevant active areas of mathematical research with many applications and connections to other branches of mathematics and the sciences.”
Finally, UWG and the Department of Physics received funding for the Science and Math Institutes for Teacher Education, or SMITE, program, totaling to $325,914 by the Math and Science Partnership of the Georgia Department of Education. SMITE provides professional development in physics and mathematics for educators in third through fifth grade, middle grade and high school grade levels. The curriculum for SMITE is designed by the American Association of Physics Teachers featuring workshops with hands-on activities.
“The Department of Physics is pleased to receive continuing funding to provide professional development for area teachers to improve the teaching of STEM in the schools,” said Dr. Bob Powell, UWG professor and chair of physics and director of the SMITE program. “Students from these schools will be better equipped to take STEM courses at the University of West Georgia and other colleges.”
For more information on these and other projects, please visit the College of Science and Mathematics website at www.westga.edu/cosm.