SOMAS Professor Receives Prestigious NSF Undergraduate Grant

Sharon Pochron, associate professor of practice in the Department of Sustainability Studies in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) has received a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) award. She will receive $293,933 to work with undergraduate students in the Earthworm Ecotoxicology Lab.

This proposal harnesses an innovative learning pedagogy called “Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences” or CURE, to promote STEM interest, motivation, and persistence in the Stony Brook undergraduate population. Pochron plans to implement two CURE-based interventions for STEM first-year students, in an effort to maximize feelings of STEM belonging. By the end of the project, more than 500 undergraduates will benefit from this program enriched CURE. Some students will also become peer-educators and carry this powerful pedagogy to the next generation.

This award will provide authentic and early research experiences to Stony Brook students at scale, engaging more students and diverse students relative to traditional apprenticed research experiences.

Paul Shepson, dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, described the award as “an important investment in STEM student success.” He added that this “approach of assessing and transferring the benefits of successful approaches (e.g., the very successful worm lab active learning approach) between degree programs will enable the team to help other programs and STEM students across the country.”

Pochron’s research was conducted as part of the Faculty Fellows program in the Division of Undergraduate Education. To provide an earlier on-ramp for student-faculty engagement, in 2021-2022, Stony Brook piloted the Faculty Fellowship program to bring the most dynamic faculty from across the University into high-impact scenarios with first-year students.

Students in Professor Pochron’s Worm Lab.

“The Worm Lab was an ideal partner for the Division of Undergraduate Education’s new Faculty Fellows program,” said Elizabeth Newman, vice provost for Undergraduate Education and Curriculum. “We were delighted to work with Dr. Pochron and her students to support and highlight just one of the exciting pedagogical innovations our faculty and staff are engaged in.”

Funded by an American Talent Initiative (ATI) Accelerator award, faculty fellows drew pedagogical “good practice” connections and built educational equity across different disciplines. With the support of the Center for Learning and Teaching Excellence (CELT) and the Student Success Through Applied Research (SSTAR) Lab, fellows assessed the impact of high engagement pedagogies on student persistence.

Newman added that “we are deeply grateful to ATI, as well, for providing the seed funds to support Dr. Pochron’s work. That funding has laid the groundwork for the application of high-impact practices in our STEM courses for dozens of students in the years to come.”

The NSF’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education award is a program supported by the National Science Foundation’s Directorate of STEM Education. The NSF plays a leadership role in developing and implementing efforts to enhance and improve STEM education in the United States. The fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) hold much promise as sectors of the economy where we can expect to see continuous vigorous growth in the coming decades. STEM job creation is expected to outpace non-STEM job creation significantly, according to the Commerce Department, reflecting the importance of STEM knowledge to the US economy.

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