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CSU receives $500K to study service-learning STEM effectiveness

The Cal State University received a $500,000 grant that will be used to study the impact of service learning courses in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — courses that the CSU has adopted in recent years.

The W.M. Keck Foundation, which focused the grant primarily on pioneering efforts in the areas of medical research, science and engineering and undergraduate education, will fund an 18-month study evaluating students’ success through service-learning courses, according a CSU press release.

Partnered with the California Campus Compact, a statewide service-learning organization, the CSU’s Center for Community Engagement will conduct the study, according to the release.

“Service learning is another kind of hands-on experience for students,” said Judy Botelho, CSU’s CCE director. “Now we’re trying to gather the quality of service learning experience…”

Botelho said that service learning is a “dual relationship” between the skills students learned from the community and what the community will give back to the university and the student.  She said the CCE has used service-learning across the CSU for decades and has expanded to have service learning for STEM in recent years.

The 18-month study, which will begin in fall 2014, will select about 79 service-learning courses out of the 500 — about 15 percent — across the CSU, CSU spokeswoman Elizabeth Chapin said. She said that it would only be students that are or were engaged in service learning courses.

Chapin said the study will be an “evidence-based understanding of how service learning can impact student success” in the STEM fields.

Research about the impact service-learning in other disciplines have been conducted expect for STEM, Chapin said.

“That’s kind of why this research [is] important because it’s the first study to look to see if there is also a strong correlation [with community service learning] and the students enrolled in [STEM],” Chapin said.

Chapin said data will be collected from the CSU’s student database that compares outcomes of students that are enrolled in service learning courses.  A research team, which was contracted with the grant, also plans to develop a student survey of attitudes toward careers in STEM as well as collect faculty feedback from those that are teaching the courses, she said.

She said that the $500,000 will be divided between the staff working on the project, supplies, institutional research, offices on campuses and the research group that was contracted with the project.

“Since service learning is a high-impact practice, and other fields, evidence that service learning plays a role in success in STEM field is extremely valuable because it’s imperative that California continues to produce college graduates that are prepared to meet the needs of the workforce,” Chapin said.

“This study is really about validating the high-impact practice of service learning and it is a groundbreaking study because it is the first one to do so on STEM,” Chapin said. “It’s really working toward the goal of a better understanding of how service learning impacts student success.”

In November 2009, President Obama launched the Educate to Innovate initiative to push American students into pursuing STEM-related careers, according to Whitehouse.gov.

Botelho said that the research will be reported to their funder, the CSU Board of Trustees and a national audience.

“This study is going to be one way that we’ll capture some data,” Botelho said. “I think this is going to inform the national conversation and contribute to it, especially because of our students and who they are [in regards to diversity].”

“18 months isn’t a long time to really learn a lot.  We’re going to learn some things, but we’re not going to see the whole picture,” Botelho said. “Our goal is to eventually do a longitudinal study where they follow students after graduation, which hasn’t been done before.”

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