The Title III Strengthening Institutions Program grant—a five-year investment by the U.S. Department of Education totaling nearly $2 million—is making an impact in Fairmont State University’s School of Business and College of Science & Technology.
A year and a half into the project, an outmoded classroom in Jaynes Hall has been completely transformed into a high-tech, state-of-the-art “LearnLab” to accommodate collaborative learning and student peer mentoring, and three additional classrooms are currently being updated. Four classrooms have already been equipped with “lecture capture” technology and two 30-unit carts of iPads are now available for faculty to use in their classes. This represents some of the technology tools and resources funded by the Title III grant so far.
In addition to these technology facelifts, the Title III grant has also brought a couple of new faces to campus the fill the newly established, grant-funded Business Learning Coordinator and STEM Learning Coordinator positions.
Stephen Moore, Ph.D., came to Fairmont State in August 2013 as the Business Learning Coordinator to work with faculty in the School of Business to infuse curricula with experiential, collaborative and technology-rich learning opportunities. A native of New York, Moore has taught at Syracuse University, Sejong University in Korea (through the Syracuse-Sejong Global MBA Program), Columbia College and State University of New York at Morrisville. In addition to his work as a professor, Moore brings experience in overseeing student support and retention tutoring programs, student peer mentoring, academic advising, international program development, and faculty development. His previous positions include Professor, Director of Bachelors Programs, Director of Business and Accounting Programs, and Assistant Dean for Corporate Onsite Programs. Moore has also consulted on several successful business startups in Asia.
Robynn Shannon, Ph.D., joined the Title III team in February 2014 as the STEM Learning Coordinator for the College of Science & Technology. Similar to her counterpart in the School of Business, Shannon also works with faculty in high-risk STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) courses to pilot curricula redesigned with active learning strategies in a technology-rich learning environment. Shannon came to Fairmont State from West Virginia Wesleyan, but her teaching journey includes Wesleyan University, Eastern Connecticut State University, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, and two years as a general science teacher in Ghana, West Africa, as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
The Title III grant is also facilitating Business and STEM student peer mentoring programs. During his first semester at Fairmont State, Moore developed and launched the student peer mentoring program in the School of Business. And, the program has been well-received by both students and faculty.
“When we began the Spring semester, we initially thought 100 student visits to peer mentors would be a significant semester accomplishment. A visit for this purpose meaning a 50-minute group study or individual session with a mentor,” Moore explained. “I even thought, 200 visits by the end of the semester would be a great success, but for small a program such as ours hardly doable; however, last week we surpassed the 200 visits mark. This was a great accomplishment and above expectations only two-thirds of the way through the semester.”
The STEM student peer mentoring programs are currently under development and will be fully launched in the upcoming fall semester.
In addition to the technology enhancements and peer mentoring programs, Moore and Shannon have also planned faculty development workshops and invited outside speakers to campus so faculty in the School of Business and the College of Science & Technology, as well as the rest of the campus, will have the opportunity to explore new strategies and best teaching practices.
“In January, we brought Dr. Todd Zakrajsek, a nationally-known presenter, to campus to present workshops about active learning strategies to faculty,” Moore said. “In August, we will host workshops on syllabus development (creating documents that motivate students), course design, and active learning.”
The goal of the Title III project, however, is not to hire new positions, host faculty development workshops, establish student peer mentoring programs, or bring new technology—likely soon to be outdated—to campus. These are merely means to an end. The desired end, the true objective of this project, is to better facilitate student success in even the most challenging courses, those courses that often rise up as seemingly insurmountable obstacles on a student’s path to completing their degree.
By piloting new teaching and learning strategies designed for 21st Century learners, the goal is to better facilitate student success. And, over the next few years, that success will be evaluated by quantitative, tangible evidence of student performance, measured by the percentage of students earning passing grades in the targeted courses which historically have had high rates of D’s, F’s and withdrawals.
“Through my own teaching experience I have learned that the more engaged students are in the course material, the better they will learn,” Shannon said. “And, teaching techniques and strategies need to accommodate all of the learning styles that are present in the classroom.”
By taking the most difficult courses in the School of Business and the College of Science & Technology and piloting new strategies, such as student peer mentoring, active and collaborative learning opportunities, and a technology-rich learning environment, the goal of the Title III project is to positively impact student success.
“One thing I love about teaching and learning is the intellectual challenge of teaching itself—how to facilitate, enhance, inspire, motivate and model learning,” Shannon said. “For me, teaching, more specifically how to teach effectively, is like a brain-teaser puzzle, which is what makes it so interesting. In this position, I get to collaborate with dedicated faculty on a variety of courses to try to solve this puzzle together.”
In October 2012, Fairmont State University was awarded a five-year grant totaling nearly $2 million through the U.S. Department of Education’s Title III Strengthening Institutions Program. Fairmont State was one of only 15 applicants nation-wide selected to receive a grant through this program during the 2012 funding cycle. The Title III Strengthening Institutions Program awards grants to Institutions of Higher Education to pilot projects that are geared toward increasing student success and retention.