University awarded $15 million grant from NASA

Senior News Reporter

The university was awarded a record $15 million grant from NASA to train teachers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines using NASA content, with a special emphasis on engaging minority students.

NASA’s Minority University Research and Education project awarded the grant to the university, according to a NASA press release. The grant will fund the Texas State STEM Rising Stars, a collaborative effort between the colleges of Education and Science and Engineering that aims to improve STEM undergraduate student retention and graduation rates. The group works to increase representation of underserved populations.

“The reason why there’s focus on minority-serving institutions is because the demographics of our country is growing so rapidly,” said Araceli Martinez Ortiz, director of the LBJ Institute for STEM Education and Research. “More traditionally underserved populations, like Latinos and African-Americans, are coming into schools, so there’s an even greater interest in making sure every student is well-prepared and has access to STEM.”

The university was designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution in 2011. To be named an HSI, an institution must have at least 25 percent Hispanic full-time undergraduate enrollment. Texas State surpassed this enrollment level in September 2011, according to a university news release.

“It is imperative that we have more students participating in these fields because it brings so many different perspectives to problem solving, creativity and innovation,” Ortiz said. “By working with teachers and younger students, we hope to level the playing field by making sure everyone has access and is motivated to pursue STEM careers.”

The grant will be distributed to the colleges of Education and Science and Engineering over the course of five years. The two colleges have been partnering together strongly, said Michael Blanda, assistant vice president for Research and Federal Relations.

“When you marry them together, they become much, much more effective in not just developing the content but how to deliver it,” Blanda said.

The emphasis on STEM fields in education is important in order to stay competitive in a growing global market, Blanda said. To be competitive nationally and internationally, people must understand, appreciate and value STEM, he said.

“In the big picture, it’s going to help to better prepare teachers who can then educate the next generation of scientists, engineers, mathematicians and even laypeople so they can have a better understanding of science and technology and how to fit it in their lives,” Blanda said.

The $15 million will serve as a tremendous boost for Texas State in its quest to become a Tier One Research University, Blanda said.

“Ultimately, it will help develop and build the type of momentum we’ll need to become a research university,” Blanda said. “Our strategic plan for research called for that to occur within a 10-year period, so this really helps us stay on target.”

Blanda said the learning and training opportunities the funding will bring students is the most exciting part of receiving the grant.

“We are rapidly gaining recognition for our work, and now we’re being funded to do more of it,” Ortiz said.