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Education Evaluation Projects

The following awards include grants, contracts, and other sponsored-projects for which NISER has been or is currently involved. NISER has provided a variety of leadership, assessment, evaluation and educational services for these awards.

Current Projects Lead Institution Funding Agency Dates
ADVANCE Adaptation – ASCEND: Adaptations for a Sustainable Climate of Excellence and Diversity Univ. of Tennessee NSF 9/2018-8/2021
NRT-HDR: A team-based training paradigm integrating informatics and ecology Northern Arizona Univ. NSF 9/2018-8/2023
VolsTeach for Appalachia: Strengthening the STEM Teacher Pathway from Community College to a Four-Year University Univ. of Tennessee NSF 8/2018-7/2023
NRT INFEWS: Computational Data Science to Advance Research at the Energy-Environment Nexus Univ. of Chicago NSF 9/2017-8/2022
REALising Inclusive Science Excellence Radford Univ. HHMI 9/2017-8/2022
Increasing STEM Education Retention with Intrusive Advising and Learning Fisk Univ. NSF 7/2017-6/2020
PIPES: Possibilities in Postsecondary Education & Science Univ. of Tennessee NIH 6/2017-2/2020
ASPIRE: Appalachian Students Promoting the Integration of Research in Education Univ. of Tennessee NSF 9/2016-8/2021
Biology Undergraduate Mathematics Anxiety and Attitudes Program (BioMAAP) Radford Univ. NSF 9/2016-8/2019
Quantitative Undergraduate Biology Education and Synthesis Univ. of Pittsburgh NSF 9/2016-8/2019
Multicultural Scholar Program (MSP) UTIA USDA 6/2016-5/2021
Past Projects Lead Institution Funding Agency Dates
Harvard Univ. MRSEC REU/STEAMeD Harvard Institutional Contract 8/2017-7/2018
Program for Excellence and Equity in Research Univ. of Tennessee NIH 6/2017-5/2018
INCLUDES Conference on Multi-Scale Evaluation in STEM Education Univ. of Tennessee NSF 9/2016-8/2018
REU Site: Advanced Materials for Energy and Sensing Applications Univ. of Tennessee NSF 6/2016-5/2019
International Conference on HRFS, HPS, and Hantavirus Univ. of Tennessee NIH 3/2016-2/2017
Quantitative Biology Concept Inventory Univ. of Tennessee NSF 9/2015-8/2018
Blackwell-Tapia Conference Univ. of Tennessee Sloan Foundation 10/2015-3/2017

Title: REU Site: Advanced Materials for Energy and Sensing Applications at the University of Tennessee

NSF Grant, Award #: 1262767

Investigators: Michael Best & Shawn Champagna, UTK


This award from the Division of Chemistry at the National Science Foundation supports a Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU) Site led by Professors Michael D. Best and Shawn R. Campagna both of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. The Site will host an REU program that offers comprehensive preparation for careers in chemistry. Central to this endeavor is a 10-week research experience that will provide intensive introductory research training. In addition, numerous mentored professional development activities will yield a solid and well-rounded foundation for participating students. Students will participate in a multipart ethics course developed by the faculty and also receive mentored training in the preparation of professional documents and presentations through a collaboration with the UTK Science Writing Program. Additionally, a science journalism student who will prepare articles for the general public that highlight the experiences of participants, will be embedded in the REU Program. Students will also benefit from site visits to research institutions including nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory, as well as panel discussions on career options including participants from different research sectors. Finally, rigorous assessment of the program will be conducted by the UTK Institute for Assessment and Evaluation.

The intellectual merit of this program is driven by the cutting-edge research that will be performed by REU students. While a range of research will be offered spanning the field of chemistry, these projects are generally centered on the common theme of advanced materials for energy and sensing applications. These topics represent critical areas of current research, and involve projects at UTK that are funded by federal agencies, thus invigorating and validating the work to be performed by participating students. The broader impacts of this proposal entail the comprehensive initial training experiences that will provide students with a range of critical skills to enhance their careers. In addition, broad dissemination will be achieved through the publication of point-of-view articles prepared by an embedded science writer, and students will leave the program with polished poster and oral presentations for use at future conferences. The impact of this program will additionally be enhanced by actively recruiting and selecting outstanding students who lack access to undergraduate research at their home institutions. Furthermore, to achieve the goal of broadening participation in research, students from demographic groups underrepresented in the sciences will be aggressively recruited. This effort will be aided by ongoing partnerships with faculty at institutions that primarily serve underrepresented groups and the Tennessee Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (TLSAMP).

Program Website

BIOMAAP LogoTitle: Biology Undergraduate Mathematics Attitudes and Anxiety Program (BIOMAAP)

NSF Grant, Award #: 161072

Investigators: Jeremy Wojdak and Arietta Fleming-Davis, Radford University


Radford University (RU) has received an Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Education and Human Resources Directorate (IUSE: EHR) Exploration and Design award for a project to design, implement and assess interventions to help undergraduate biology majors improve their attitudes and decrease their anxiety towards mathematics. Introductory mathematics courses are a key roadblock for many students interested in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Since student attitudes toward mathematics are strongly correlated with their performance, the goal of the current work is the development and study of strategies that reduce student resistance to mathematics. The Biology undergraduate Math Attitudes and Anxiety Program (BioMAAP) is a cohesive program that can be added to existing courses and curricula, without replacing content instruction. The approaches, which include biofeedback and metacognitive reflection, are readily adoptable and actively engage students in reducing their own mathematics anxiety and improving their attitude toward mathematics.

The core of the program is a set of online activities, with supplemental in-person group activities available when local resources permit. In biofeedback activities, students use simple smartphone devices to collect data on their own physiological responses to mathematics and to measure their responses to anxiety reducing interventions. Metacognitive activities lead students through purposeful reflections on their own methods of solving mathematics problems and learning quantitative content, which will help to demystify mathematics and improve student attitudes. While the current study involves biology majors, the knowledge generated by this project will be applicable to the amelioration of mathematics anxiety in students in all STEM disciplines. This, in turn, will increase the persistence of these majors and increase the number of STEM majors entering the graduate school and the workforce.

Program Website

ASPIRE LogoTitle: Collaborative Research: ASPIRE: Appalachian Students Promoting the Integration of Research in Education

NSF Grant, Award #: 1643393

Investigators: Erin Hardin, Melinda Gibbons, Marissa Moazen, Elisabeth Schussler, Denise Gardner, UTK


The “Appalachian Students Promoting the Integration of Research in Education” (ASPIRE) project will promote economic growth in the Appalachian region by supporting high achieving, low-income Appalachian students who attend the University of Tennessee in Knoxville or Chattanooga to complete degrees in science. Appalachian students come from households where post-secondary education is rare and poverty rates are high, thus creating barriers to degree completion. ASPIRE will address financial, academic, and other barriers to graduating with a scientific degree by providing scholarships and targeted academic and social support. Eighty students will receive four-year scholarships, live in research-focused living/learning communities, engage in mentored research, and participate in academic transition seminars, career-building fellowships and family activities. Scholarship students on the larger Knoxville campus will also engage with the new Appalachian Mentoring Program, which will provide support across social, academic, and career-related domains.

ASPIRE will compare students from low-income, low-minority, rural schools, which have the lowest college enrollment rate (44%) and the lowest six-year completion rates (21%) of any group, with students from low-income, high-minority, urban schools. The focus will be on evaluating the overlapping and unique needs of these two groups of students, as well as the relative effects on financial, socio-cultural and academic transition barriers on persistence and success of each type of support. Much is already known about the needs of first-generation, low-income, or underrepresented minority students; yet much less is known about the extent to which students with different combinations of these identities face different challenges and benefit from different support services. ASPIRE will provide a novel opportunity to identify and understand such unique needs. Results from this research will advance knowledge about evidence-based, high-impact practices that facilitate success for diverse students.

Program Website

QUBES LogoTitle: Collaborative Research: BIO IUSE Ideas Lab: Supporting Faculty in Quantitative Undergraduate Biology Education and Synthesis

NSF Grant, Award #: 1446269

Investigators: Samuel Donovan (Univ of Pittsburgh) & Jeremy Wojdak (Radford University)


With funding from the National Science Foundation’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) program, this project addresses the Nation’s growing need to better prepare undergraduate biologists with the quantitative and computational skills needed to be successful in the workplace or in graduate school. The full integration of mathematical reasoning skills into undergraduate biology classrooms has been challenging, in part, because of the rapid pace of change in many biological disciplines and an academic reward system that often overlooks pedagogical development and research.

The Supporting Faculty in Quantitative Undergraduate Biology Education and Synthesis (QUBES) project involves five interdependent initiatives that promote the integration of quantitative and computational skills across the biological sciences curriculum. The project is building on the investments of existing communities by coordinating the efforts and resources of diverse groups that are already involved in quantitative biology education reform. This approach allows QUBES to amplify the strengths of organizations like professional societies and specialized curriculum projects while streamlining the communications and coordination required to grow broader community of reform-minded faculty educators in quantitative biology (QB). Mentoring networks will be used to support faculty understanding and classroom implementation of specific quantitative biology concepts and teaching strategies. These mentoring networks will be led by teams containing both quantitative and pedagogical expertise and will serve spatially distributed groups of instructors who share a common interest in reforming their current teaching practices. Participating instructors will disseminate resources within their own institutions, organize new mentoring networks, and take leadership roles in their professional societies. The products from these collaborations will be captured as part of the QUBES Hub, a virtual environment providing professional support activities and access to curriculum resources for all QB educators. In order to address the challenges of documenting teaching scholarship, the QUBES project is also piloting a system for describing and tracking faculty contributions to the QB education community. This high-risk, but potentially transformative, initiative to develop meaningful metrics of teaching scholarship could have a long term impact on academic reward systems across diverse institution types. By strengthening QB research and development tools, the project is enriching the discipline and catalyzing long-term academic cultural change across STEM education. Finally, the collaborative is studying and disseminating what they learn about the effectiveness of this educational reform effort. This research will take a systems approach to characterize effective interventions and barriers to change within the complex landscape of factors influencing the success of educational reform.

The efficient execution and management of a project with this level of complexity requires thorough and ongoing evaluation. The project team is embedding data collection systems throughout project activities as a means to track progress in near real time, manage resources effectively, and maintain clear communication across connected project components. The QUBES approach to implementation, research, and development promises to have a significant impact on QB education across the nation and, more generally, to inform systemic STEM education reform efforts.

This project is funded jointly by the Directorate for Biological Sciences and the Directorate of Education and Human Resources, Division of Undergraduate Education in support of efforts to address the challenges posed in Vision and Change in Undergraduate Education: A Call to Action

Program Website

Title: NRT INFEWS: Computational Data Science to Advance Research at the Energy-Environment Nexus

NSF Grant, Award #: 173359

Investigators: Liz Moyer, Univ. of Chicago


In the near future, humanity will be confronted with unprecedented challenges as we seek to maintain the economic growth that drives prosperity while managing increasing environmental stresses. In particular, continuing development is necessarily accompanied by rising demand for food, energy, and water. Advancing the understanding of these complex and interacting systems requires training a next generation of interdisciplinary scientists with the computational skills required to exploit growing torrents of relevant data. This National Science Foundation Traineeship (NRT) award to the University of Chicago will produce students who are fully grounded in their respective disciplines and who have the computational skills and breadth of knowledge needed to address and communicate the food-energy-water system in all of its complexity. This project anticipates providing training for thirty (30) MS and PhD students, including fifteen (15) funded trainees, from across the physical, biological, and social sciences, uniting them with a common focus on computation and data analysis. The project’s vision is to create a new model for interdisciplinary training that gives students the ability to collaborate and work across fields and to apply cutting-edge computational methods.

The trainees’ educational program is structured to generate a cohesive community of young researchers who have regular, in-depth interactions and opportunities to share expertise across disciplines. Program components include: (1) two-week bootcamps prior to the start of each Fall quarter that provide skills training and introduce cross-disciplinary material, including modules on computing, data analysis, and statistics; (2) a year-long core course sequence consisting of an introduction to the food-energy-water system followed by a data analysis practicum in which students work in interdisciplinary teams to analyze datasets; (3) communication and professional development training; (4) international experience opportunities; and (5) community building activities. All educational elements will be opened to students across the University of Chicago whenever possible. An important goal of the program is to improve the recruitment and retention of graduate students from underrepresented groups. Finally, to enable dissemination of the educational model to other institutions, the project will quantitatively evaluate the benefits of the education program and publicly disseminate all educational material to facilitate its use.

The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new potentially transformative models for STEM graduate education training. The Traineeship Track is dedicated to effective training of STEM graduate students in high priority interdisciplinary research areas, through comprehensive traineeship models that are innovative, evidence-based, and aligned with changing workforce and research needs.

VolsTeach LogoTitle: VolsTeach for Appalachia: Strengthening the STEM Teacher Pathway from Community College to East TN High-need School Districts

Award #: 175825

Investigators: Lynn Hodges, UTK


This project, referred to as VolsTeach for Appalachia (VFA), is a Robert Noyce Track 1 project at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The project aims to help meet the national need for new STEM teachers who can serve in diverse rural school settings. To accomplish this goal, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will collaborate with Pellissippi State Community College (PSCC) will and five East Tennessee school districts (Anderson County, Campbell County, Claiborne County, Lenoir Count, and Sevier County). The goal of VFA is to grow and diversify the STEM teacher workforce by supporting community college students to become STEM teachers. Located in the heart of Appalachia, the East Tennessee region is experiencing a persistent shortage in mathematics and science teachers that is increasingly compounded by many retiring teachers. VFA will support 32 high-potential Noyce Appalachian Scholars, recruited from PSCC, as they become STEM teachers. Scholars will devote at least their first four years of teaching to high-need school districts. VFA aims to accomplish this goal by recruiting students and providing them with summer internships, enhanced coursework, academic supports, and out-of-classroom experiences. The research results and lessons learned from this project will be shared nationally to help address the need for highly prepared STEM teachers who will teach and inspire the next generation of STEM professionals and problem solvers.

By effectively connecting University of Tennessee with PSCC faculty, VFA aims to select community college students as Noyce Appalachian Scholars, and support them to complete a bachelor’s degree in a STEM major with a minor in education and receive a teaching certification. Scholars will complete the program under the guidance of master teachers, STEM faculty, and STEM education faculty. VFA’s recruitment plan will include delivery of a STEM Teaching and Learning course at PSCC, along with a four-week summer internship that aims to inspire first-year students’ love of STEM teaching. VFA’s program development will include refocusing coursework to support learning about Culturally Relevant Pedagogy. Additional program supports for Scholars will include academic coaches, supplemental instruction, transfer coaches, content area advisors, education advisors, and out-of-classroom experiences. Scholars will receive scholarship support for two years, along with community learning and building and tailored supports. VFA aims to contribute to the knowledge base about teacher preparation, recruitment, and retention, especially in high-need school districts. The project’s research components will focus on: (1) identity in relation to culturally responsive teaching; and (2) the study of the VFA model of STEM teacher preparation. Such research has the potential to inform coursework design and resources that support preservice teachers’ learning of and identification with culturally relevant pedagogy. Project outcomes and research results will be disseminated statewide and nationally in publications, conference presentations, and other communications.

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Program Website

Multicultural Scholars Program LogoTitle: Building Capacity for the Recruitment and Retention of Students in Forestry Multicultural Scholars Program

MSP Forestry Fellows: Multicultural Scholars Program, USDA, Award #: 2016-38413-25270

Investigators: Sharon Jean-Philippe, Sharon Couch, Keith Belli, Jennifer Richards, and Pamela Bishop, UTK


This project targets historically underrepresented students in agriculture and natural resource sciences and seeks to recruit, educate and graduate minority undergraduate scholars. Opportunities to maintain a pathway for future professionals, scientists, and practitioners in schools of agriculture and natural resources will heavily depend on the ability of colleges and universities to recruit students from historically underrepresented populations. This proposal leverages newly passed state legislation (Tennessee Promise) that provides two-years of free community college tuition to Tennessee residents to recruit underrepresented students into Forestry through articulation agreements with local community colleges. By educating, developing and refocusing underrepresented student interests in natural resources the Department of Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries (FWF) will serve as a conduit that addresses the workforce demands for expertise relevant to USDA mission areas. MSP scholars will complete a rigorous curriculum designed to promote experiential learning opportunities through undergraduate research and professional internship experiences. Coupled with an innovative model for mentoring and monitoring scholars, this proposal provides the support structure to ensure that MSP scholars persist and excel. These activities fall under the Farm Bill Priority Area of Renewable Bioenergy, Natural Resources, and Environment. At the completion of this project, we anticipate placing 11 underrepresented scholars directly into the workforce in the fields of Resource Management or Urban Forestry.

Program Website

PIPES LogoTitle: PIPES: Possibilities in Postsecondary Education and Science for Rural Appalachian Youth

NIH Grant, Award #: R25oD020231

Investigators: Melinda Gibbons & Erin Hardin, UTK


Recruiting more research scientists from rural Appalachia is essential for reducing the critical public health disparities found in this region. As a designated medically underserved area, the people of Appalachia endure limited access to healthcare and accompanying public health education, and exhibit higher disease incidences and shorter lifespans than the conventional U.S. population (Pollard & Jacobsen, 2013). These health concerns, coupled with the fact that rural Appalachian adults are less likely to trust people from outside their communities, highlights the need for rural Appalachian youth to enter the biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research workforce. However, doing so requires not only the specific desire to pursue a science, technology, engineering, math, or medical science (STEMM) related degree, it also requires the more general desire to pursue post-secondary education at all. This is clearly not occurring in Tennessee‘s rural Appalachian regions where nearly 75% of adults realize educational achievements only up to the high school level.

Although a great deal of research and intervention has been done to increase students‘ interest in STEMM disciplines, very little research has considered the unique barriers to higher education experienced by rural Appalachian youth. A critical gap in past interventions research is the failure to address these key pieces of the puzzle: combatting real and perceived barriers to higher education and STEMM pursuits in order to increase self-efficacy for, belief in the value of, and interest in pursuing an undergraduate degree. Such barriers are especially salient for rural Appalachian youth.

Our long-range goal is to increase the diversity of biomedical, clinical and behavioral research scientists by developing interventions that both reduce barriers to higher education and increase interest in pipeline STEMM majors among rural Appalachian high school students. Our objective in this application is to determine the extent to which a multifaceted intervention strategy combining interventions to address the barriers to and supports for higher education with interventions to increase interest in STEMM fields leads to increased intentions to pursue an undergraduate STEMM degree. Our hypothesis is that students who experience such interventions will show increases in important intrapersonal social-cognitive factors and in their intentions to pursue a postsecondary degree than students not exposed to such interventions. Based on the low numbers of students from this region who pursue post-secondary education and the research demonstrating the unique barriers faced by this and similar populations (Gibbons & Borders, 2010), we believe it is necessary to reduce perceived barriers to college-going in addition to helping students explore STEMM career options. In other words, it is not enough to simply offer immersive and hands-on research and exploratory career experiences to rural Appalachian youth; they need targeted interventions to help them understand college life, navigate financial planning for college, strategize ways to succeed in college, and interact with college-educated role models. Only this combination of general college-going and specific STEMM-field information can overcome the barriers faced by this population.

Therefore, our specific aims are:

Specific Aim 1: Understand the role of barriers to and support for higher education in Appalachian high school students‘ interest in pursuing STEMM-related undergraduate degrees. We will compare outcomes for students who participate in our interventions, designed to proactively reduce general college-going barriers while increasing support systems, to outcomes for students from closely matched schools who do not participate in these interventions to determine the extent to which such low-cost interventions, which can reach large numbers of students, are effective in increasing rural Appalachian youth‘s intent to pursue STEMM-related undergraduate degrees.

Specific Aim 2: Develop sustainable interventions that decrease barriers to and increase support for higher education and that increase STEMM-related self-efficacy and interest. Throughout our project, we will integrate training for teachers and school counselors, nurture lasting community partnerships, and develop a website with comprehensive training modules to allow the schools to continue implementing the major features of the interventions long after funding ends.

This research is innovative because it is among the first to recognize the unique needs of this region by directly addressing barriers to and supports for higher education and integrating such barriers-focused interventions with more typical STEMM-focused interventions. Our model provides opportunities to assess college-going and STEMM-specific self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and barriers/supports, giving us a true understanding of how to best serve this group. Ultimately, this project will allow future researchers to understand the complex balance of services needed to increase the number of rural Appalachians entering the biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research science workforce.

Program Website

REALising Inclusive Science Excellence LogoTitle: The REALising Inclusive Science Excellence (REALISE) Program

HHMI Grant, Award: HHMI Inclusive Excellence Radford

Investigators: J. Orion Rogers, Jeremy Wojdak, Tara Phelps-Durr, Radford University

Program Goals and Features:

  1. To build a community of empowered faculty and student learners that is student-ready, welcoming and inclusive.
  2. To deeply engage our students in their learning through problem-based and project-based pedagogies–through Making.
  3. To expand and cultivate a culture of excellence where all students believe they can succeed.

REALISE aims to change faculty and student mindset through developing and implementing engaging and inclusive pedagogies. There are four main features of the REALISE project: Peer Role Modeling Program- Students are invited to participate in academic and social events hosted by trained peer role models. The peer role model program develops a network and sense of community among our students Project-based learning (PBL)- PBL is a student-centered, hands-on approach to teaching that helps students gain ownership and acquire deeper knowledge of their field through active exploration of real-world challenges and problems. REALISE aligns with Radford‘s existing Maker culture.

Faculty Development- Faculty have opportunities to participate in professional development opportunities to explore and implement best-practices for inclusive pedagogy and project-based learning.

Postdoctoral Fellows- Recent STEM Ph.D. graduates are hired to teach Biology, Chemistry, and Physics courses at Radford and participate in the REALISE professional development activities. As the postdoctoral fellows enter the classroom, Radford‘s permanent faculty will be granted time to participate in the REALISE faculty development opportunities and redesign their courses to include project-based learning and inclusive pedagogies. The postdoctoral fellows will receive hands-on teaching experience, mentoring and faculty development in PBL and inclusive excellence that will prepare them for the next phase of their professional careers.

REALISE is a five-year program supported by a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) – the largest private, nonprofit supporter of science education in the United States.

Program Website