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Team Led by TCNJ Computer Science Chair Awarded NSF Grant to Support Multidisciplinary Approach to Improving Undergraduate Learning

Starting this year TCNJ will provide its students with even more opportunities for interdisciplinary learning. A new $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will allow a TCNJ team led by Professor and Department Chair of Computer Science Dr. Monisha Pulimood to investigate the benefits students derive from a new model of multidisciplinary, community-engaged learning.

With funding from a previous NSF grant, Pulimood and her long-time collaborator Professor Kim Pearson (Associate Professor of Journalism and Professional Writing) developed and piloted an innovative model for experiential and community-engaged learning in their classes. Pulimood and Pearson coordinated their separate computer science and journalism classes and centered them on a computational collaborative project that addressed a community-identified issue. The two courses worked with Habitat for Humanity to design and develop a software application to identify levels of pollution in properties being considered for redevelopment. The initial project was a success and showed that this curricular model—coordinated, but separately taught courses centered around a community-engaged learning project—improved student learning.

Now, Pulimood and Pearson are working with Dr. Diane Bates (Professor of Sociology) to roll their curricular model out across TCNJ. The new NSF award will provide the support needed to expand this approach to more than 30 TCNJ classes; by the end of the project 750 students will experience this collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to learning. Pulimood, Pearson, and Bates will evaluate the effectiveness of the curricular model at TCNJ in order to understand how it works. Ultimately, they aim to encourage other institutions to adopt this high-impact approach to undergraduate learning.

This project is perfectly aligned with Pulimood’s current role as TCNJ Barbara Meyers Pelson Chair in Faculty-Student Engagement. Pulimood’s research has long focused on how multidisciplinary experiences can improve students’ ability to understand STEM concepts. Chemistry and journalism; software engineering and business innovation; sociology and gender studies; what benefits do students derive from thinking about these seemingly disparate topics together?

“The increasingly interdisciplinary and complex issues facing our society require diverse, STEM-literate experts from a range of fields who can work and solve problems in collaboration,” says Pulimood.  “Addressing this national need requires innovative, research-based teaching practices that retain students and improve STEM learning. Our model aims to help accomplish this goal.”

The funding is provided by a competitive grant from the NSF’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) Program. The IUSE program is a core NSF undergraduate education program that aims to improve the effectiveness of undergraduate STEM education for both majors and non-majors.

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