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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

‘Creating Scientists’ is focus of 5-year QEP initiative

11Howard Aldrich Murray makerspace sociology class

Kenan Professor of Sociology Howard Aldrich discusses technology with his students visiting the Murray Hall makerspace.

Carolina has launched a five-year initiative, “Creating Scientists: Learning by Connecting, Doing and Making,” to expose undergraduate students to more hands-on research and collaborative opportunities and help them hone their analytical and problem-solving skills to tackle real-world problems.

The plan is not just for science majors, said Kelly Hogan, director of the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). An important element is to connect the arts and the humanities with the sciences so that students can increase their critical thinking and communication skills and diversify their perspectives.

“The process of science is non-linear, non-prescriptive and sometimes messy,” said Hogan, who is also assistant dean of instructional innovation in the College of Arts and Sciences and a senior STEM lecturer in biology.

“This QEP will implement educational innovations that align more closely with contemporary models of teaching and learning science — the interconnections between how ideas arise and then are tested, the feedback from scientific community and the needs of society.”

The QEP is a required part of the university’s reaffirmation (reaccreditation) process by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Every university undergoing this 10-year review is required to create a QEP that focuses on broad-based campus initiatives to improve student learning. (Carolina’s last QEP, in 2006, revamped the General Education curriculum and introduced Maymester, for example.)

Planners chose to focus the latest QEP on undergraduate science for many reasons: There has been a 60 percent increase in intended or declared science majors since 2004. Women, minorities and first-generation science students remain underrepresented in the sciences at UNC, and transfer students face particular obstacles in completing science coursework in time to graduate in four years.

“I believe that all our students will benefit from this initiative, regardless of their area of academic study, as the approaches and the experiences travel across departments and disciplines,” Chancellor Carol L. Folt said.

There are four main components of the Creating Scientists initiative:

CURE classes have already been piloted at UNC; one example is a seafood forensics class in which students test seafood samples to verify the accuracy of the food labels and explore the implications of mislabeling on ecosystems, policy and human health.

A QEP-related call for proposals from Dean Kevin Guskiewicz recently went out to College faculty seeking co-taught interdisciplinary First Year Seminar courses in which at least one faculty member is in the natural or social sciences and one is from the arts or humanities. 

“The boundaries between the natural and social sciences and the arts and humanities are artificial, and many of today’s challenges demand integrated perspectives and approaches,” Guskiewicz said in the memo.

There will also be calls for proposals to create new CURE classes and classes that use the campus makerspaces as part of the coursework, said Hogan.

As part of the QEP effort, Carolina will launch University Research Week (March 27-31) to highlight faculty and student scholarship across the arts and humanities as well the sciences.

Importantly, Guskiewicz added, it will underscore the main goal of the QEP: for students to expand their conceptions of science and what it means to do research and experience the blurred boundaries between disciplines.

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