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Salt Lake City – Westminster College has received a $285,731 grant to increase diversity in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. Computer science professor Helen Hu will use the grant to create new course combinations that are designed to excite freshmen about the versatility of technology.
The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Association of American Colleges & Universities awarded the grant to Westminster as part of a nearly $5 million national initiative called Teaching to Increase Diversity and Equity in STEM (TIDES). The goals of TIDES are to develop and implement curricula that will enhance underrepresented STEM student interest and empower STEM faculty to adopt culturally sensitive pedagogies.
Hu will use the TIDES grant to introduce a computer science course, titled Computer Science Principles, to Westminster College. This course emphasizes the creative and problem solving aspects of computer science and is appropriate for students with no prior programming experience.
“Every student, regardless of major or career path, needs to have some basic knowledge of computer science,” said Hu. “This course will help students learn which types of problems are easy for computers to solve, and which problems are difficult. That’s becoming essential knowledge for anyone in the 21st century.”
This new course will first be offered in Spring 2015 as part of a biology-computer science learning community. Westminster learning communities pair two traditionally different subject areas around a common theme and are a requirement for all first-year students. Students who select this new learning community will learn to develop apps for their Android devices while discovering how computing drives innovation in genetics and other fields.
Professors Helen Hu and Brian Avery will teach the new biology–computer science learning community using Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL), a student-centered method that emphasizes collaboration. Rather than listening to a professor lecture about the material, Westminster students will discover biology and computer science concepts for themselves while working together on activities.