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Debbie Cafazzo

Jacob Egge's biology class collecting specimens in the Nisqually river. Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)
Grants Fuel Innovation at PLU 1024 427 Debbie Cafazzo

Grants Fuel Innovation at PLU

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In January, the National Science Foundation awarded the university a $650,000 grant to support academically talented low-income students who come to PLU to study STEM subjects.

Winning the grant was a team effort of PLU’s Division of Natural Sciences faculty, including Tina Saxowsky, principal investigator and associate professor of chemistry, along with Dean of Natural Sciences and biology Professor Ann Auman and faculty members Shannon Seidel, assistant professor of biology, and Amy Siegesmund, associate professor of biology.

“We are very excited about the ability to implement the work outlined in our proposal,” Auman said. “Not only will this funding allow us to provide significant scholarship support for low-income students in STEM, but it will also allow us to better integrate PLU resources and build new structures to support these students’ success.”

The grant, funded by the NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) program, will be awarded over a five-year period. It will provide scholarships and enhanced support for students who meet the criteria for federal Pell grants, with a particular focus on transfer and commuter students.

Sixty percent of the funds will provide student scholarships. The remaining money will fund new support programs for these students. The goal is to eliminate disparities in graduation and retention rates between low-income students and their peers who study STEM subjects.

Small-group mentoring with trained faculty will connect students with resources and experiences, including study groups, social events and professional development opportunities. The research will measure students’ sense of belonging and the impact of program resources over time.

Not only will this funding allow us to provide significant scholarship support for low-income students in STEM, but it will also allow us to better integrate PLU resources and build new structures to support these students’ success.

- Ann Auman

Curricular engagement will include a transitions course, linked introductory courses and supplemental instruction. Students will learn resume writing, scientific communication, interviewing and how to apply to undergraduate research programs and graduate schools.

“By collecting data along the way about what strategies work best, this project will help not only those students receiving scholarship support from the grant, but will also help PLU STEM students and those at other institutions in the years to come,” Auman said.

A student-faculty research project analyzing artificial intelligence, smart home technology and their potential effects on energy conservation won a grant funded by Puget Sound Energy and supported by Independent Colleges of Washington.

The project’s faculty advisers, business Assistant Professor Leong Chan and computer science Assistant Professor Renzhi Cao, led a team that includes students from both disciplines. Business students developed the research model and designed consumer survey questions, while computer science students worked to collect data and build a website to increase awareness of energy efficiency through the use of smart home systems.

The goal of the project is to develop an assessment model to evaluate Pacific Northwest residents’ adoption of smart home technology and its impact on energy consumption behaviors. Project participants hope to generate market research that can help utility providers better understand their customers, and assist consumers in choosing the most energy efficient systems for their homes.

Two grants from the Puget Sound Energy Foundation, are making the PLU campus safer. They helped launch a new emergency notification system that includes “Call for Help” devices inside buildings that connect users immediately with Campus Safety and identifies the location of a help station for Campus Safety on a campus map when someone activates it. The devices also serve as loudspeakers that can broadcast emergency messages both inside and outside the buildings.

An outdoor “Call for Help” device and loudspeakers have also been installed on the campus athletic complex – an area heavily used by campus visitors.

Jimmy Aung ’19 and Jamie Escobar ’19 teaching in an elementary class
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Grant Power

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Drop by drop, the lesson comes into focus for this classroom full of fifth-graders.

Jimmy Aung ’19, a PLU biology major, and his teaching partner, Jamie Escobar ’19, also a biology major, lead the students at Four Heroes Elementary in Lakewood, WA through a science lab experiment.

Grasping pipettes and syringes, students measure out precise amounts of water in proportions that represent Earth’s water resources. A small plastic bottle with 100 milliliters of water represents all the water on the planet, while increasingly smaller amounts measured into other bottles stand for salt water, fresh water and other categories. By the time students measure the proportion of Earth’s water found in the air and soil, their bottles contains only a tiny, nearly undetectable drop.

“It’s so little, right?” Aung says to a puzzled girl.

The lesson Aung and Escobar are teaching is part of a pilot project launched this year by PLU’s Division of Natural Sciences and the School of Education and Kinesiology.

Funded by a $71,000 Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship grant from the National Science Foundation, the project seeks to encourage talented STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) majors to become K-12 mathematics and science teachers. There’s a national shortage of these educators, especially in schools with high-needs student populations.

/ Grants Power /

“I like biology, and I also like being with children,” Aung said. “This is a great way to get teaching experience – something I might like to explore after graduation.”

“I’m still exploring different careers and I also enjoy working with children,” added Escobar. She mentioned her interests to her faculty adviser, Shannon Seidel, assistant professor of biology. Seidel introduced Escobar to the Noyce program.

This year’s program dispatched PLU students to five area elementary and middle schools through a service learning science education course. The cross-disciplinary faculty group plans to apply for a second, larger grant to support the next phase of the project, which could include student scholarships or stipends.

“This would strengthen our collaboration and would provide more opportunities for our students to do the exciting work they started this year, in collaboration with our school district partners,” Seidel said.

Wendy Gardiner, the Jolita Hyland Benson endowed chair in elementary education, helped to create a multicultural STEM lending library for students in partner schools. The books — multiple copies of 56 different titles — feature women, people of color and other historically marginalized people in STEM fields.

Gardiner included books that are high-quality, with accurate content, that can be checked out by PLU student scientists for use in partner schools.

If you don’t see people who look like you, with similar backgrounds and experiences, it’s hard to envision this being a path for you.

- Wendy Gardiner

Partners include Lakewood-based Clover Park School District, Parkland-based Franklin Pierce School District and Tacoma Public Schools. Five two-person teams of PLU science students plan lessons with classroom teachers.

The project exposes the younger kids to a type of science instruction that busy classroom teachers might not otherwise have time to deliver, said Four Heroes teacher Britni Proudman.

“It gets students excited about science,” Proudman said.

Ksenija Simic-Muller, associate professor of mathematics, said the project creates “a lot of joy for both the PLU scientists and the fifth-through-eighth grade students, both in doing science together and in getting to know each other.”