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NRT ICGE Abstract

This National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) award in the Innovations in Graduate Education (IGE) Track to the University of California, Merced pilots a graduate education innovation in Interdisciplinary Computational Sciences (ICS) to reduce attrition rates, particularly for underrepresented minorities and first-generation students for whom degree completion is a particular challenge.

The project undertakes a systematic, integrated approach that provides team-based interdisciplinary research and student support and mentoring. Another central element of this approach is career preparation for research positions in industry and national laboratories, as well as academia. Project evaluation will examine implementation, student achievement, and retention and will use formative assessment to guide refinements. If successful, this pilot project will result in an educational approach that improves doctoral completion rates for underrepresented groups and improves career preparedness, and that is scalable and replicable to additional programs and institutions. 

The primary goals of the pilot program are to foster computational and data analytic skills within an interdisciplinary framework; reduce attrition, especially among underrepresented minorities and first generation graduate students; and prepare students for careers in, or in partnership with, national laboratories and industry. Program activities in support of the goals include a two-day introductory workshop followed by weekly project meetings and instructional modules focused on specific skills required to solve interdisciplinary computational science problems.

Module content includes programming languages, tools for data analytics, model building, fundamental algorithms, and data interpretation and visualization. In addition, the program provides professional development modules focused on project management, teamwork, communication and presentation skills. All of the modules are complemented with continuous mentoring from faculty, peers, and partners from industry and the national laboratories. This pilot project offers students the opportunity to move away from narrow disciplinary training, broadening their approaches to problem solving and their ability to work in diverse teams while also expanding their computational skills and familiarity with data analytic tools.

Assessment will evaluate the success of instructional modules and the structure and pedagogical strategy of the project as a whole, with formative assessments informing revisions in an iterative process. It is expected that the interdisciplinary team-based approach employed in this project, in combination with professional development, social supports and multiple mentors, will result in improved completion rates for underrepresented minority and first generation STEM graduate students and prepare them for future career success, thus helping to meet a serious national need. 

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 Innovations in Graduate Education Track is dedicated solely to piloting, testing, and evaluating novel, innovative, and potentially transformative approaches to graduate education.