CU-Boulder selected to be one of eight sites for national STEM education initiative

June 25, 2013 •

The University of Colorado Boulder has been chosen by the Association of American Universities to be one of eight campuses participating in a new initiative to improve undergraduate education in science, technology, engineering and math.

Over the next three years, each of the eight project sites will receive $500,000 to undertake an innovative STEM education project.

“We are thrilled to be chosen by the AAU to be part of this important new initiative,” said CU-Boulder Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano. “Our selection underscores CU-Boulder’s long history as a national leader and innovator in the STEM education field, and positions us well to create new generations of STEM educators and researchers.”

CU-Boulder’s initiative, which will be run out of the university’s recently formed Center for STEM Learning, will focus on working with faculty who teach undergraduate STEM classes to help them objectively assess the success of their teaching methods. The evaluations will complement the more subjective student course evaluations filled out at the end of a semester.

The grant money will be used, in part, to hire project staffers who will help participating faculty members interpret the newly collected evaluation data at the end of each semester and then make a plan to improve their teaching methods in the future.

“We want to recognize that research and teaching are not in competition but, in fact, are complementary activities,” said CU-Boulder physics Professor Noah Finkelstein, a director of the Center for STEM Learning. “The excellence to which we strive as faculty is a habit of mind applied to all our endeavors at the university.”

Typically, research and teaching are both formal requirements of a professor’s position, but research has been valued more in the university culture, Finkelstein said. Research has also traditionally been easier to evaluate.

Measures such as number of publications, frequency of study citations and grant amounts are often used to determine the quality of a faculty member’s research.  By comparison, the leading tool for evaluation of a faculty member’s teaching has been end-of-course student evaluations, a measure that is not especially helpful for teasing out how effective a particular course was in meeting all the learning objectives, Finkelstein said.

Over the last decade, CU-Boulder and other leading universities have developed a suite of tools that can more reliably measure the impacts of particular educational practices. The new project will work with faculty on a voluntary basis to find the most appropriate evaluation tools and implement them in their classrooms.

The eight campuses participating in the AAU’s new STEM initiative were chosen from 31 applications. The seven other campuses are Brown University, Michigan State University, University of Arizona, University of California, Davis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Pennsylvania and Washington University in St. Louis. 

The AAU initiative received a three-year, $4.7 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust last October. The initiative also received a two-year, $284,000 grant from the National Science Foundation in May.

“We have reached an exciting milestone in our initiative,” said AAU President Hunter Rawlings. “With the strong support provided by the Helmsley Trust, these eight project sites will each begin—or in some cases continue—to institutionalize evidence-based teaching in STEM fields.  These changes will make teaching and learning far more interactive and participatory, and we hope will enhance overall student learning in STEM fields and reduce the number of students who choose to drop out of these majors.”

Noah Finkelstein, 303-735-6082
Laura Snider, CU media relations, 303-735-0528


The Association of American Universities is an association of 60 U.S. and two Canadian research universities organized to develop and implement effective national and institutional policies supporting research and scholarship, graduate and professional education, undergraduate education, and public service in research universities.

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aspires to improve lives by supporting effective nonprofits in a variety of selected areas. Since 2008, when the Trust began its active grant making, it has committed more than $900 million to a wide range of charitable organizations. Through its National Education Program, the Trust views education as a lever to advance both American economic competitiveness and individual social mobility.  In K-12, the Trust focuses on ensuring all students graduate high school prepared for college or careers by supporting teacher effectiveness and the implementation of high academic standards. In postsecondary education, the Trust is primarily interested in increasing the number of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates who can participate in high growth sectors of the economy.  The Trust also focuses on policy levers that improve postsecondary completion, particularly for underrepresented populations. For more information, please visit