March 7, 2016
Janet Kelly,, 608.890.3926 or 608.224.9130

UW-Madison's National Initiative to Increase STEM Graduates Doubles in Members

Instructor Christen Smith (center), former CIRTL and Delta Program participant, during her chemistry class at Madison College.

Local Delta Program’s network now includes 46 universities

MADISON, WIS. – Forty-six research universities that produce one-third of U.S. doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) now are members of the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL), established within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education. The mission of CIRTL is to improve the teaching skills and increase the diversity of future STEM university faculty members.

CIRTL added its 25 newest members as a result of its third expansion, completed Feb. 15. “As CIRTL members, universities commit to developing local learning communities that promote proven teaching and mentoring techniques for their STEM graduate students,” explains Don Gillian-Daniel, associate director of the Delta Program in Research, Teaching and Learning, UW─Madison’s local CIRTL program and a founding member of the network since 2003.

“We know from education research that ineffective teaching often is the reason students leave STEM degree programs,” says Robert Mathieu, a UW–Madison astronomy professor and director of WCER and CIRTL. “Knowing this, and that 80 percent of Ph.D. students in the nation are educated at only 100 research universities, we realized the huge leverage and potential impact of training graduate students to become effective teachers before they become STEM faculty members.”

According to Kitch Barnicle, executive director of the CIRTL Network, STEM graduate coursework and effort historically have been focused on creating great researchers in specific academic fields. “As a matter of fact, new professors often face their first classes of students with little preparation in teaching,” says Barnicle. “Our goal is to develop great researchers who also are great teachers, not one or the other.”

CIRTL is increasing the number and diversity of STEM professionals by working toward its goal of improving the STEM learning of students at all U.S. colleges and universities. With so many graduate universities now part of CIRTL, Mathieu foresees better prepared and more diverse STEM faculty members working across thousands of colleges and universities due to the training and support of CIRTL local and national learning communities.

CIRTL’s member universities develop their own programs, all built on the core ideas of teaching-as-research, learning communities and learning-through-diversity. For instance, the UW–Madison Delta Program’s evidence-based teaching strategies include: connecting classroom topics to real-world situations, promoting inclusive learning, encouraging teamwork through shared projects and study groups, continually assessing student progress and using research skills to advance effective teaching practices.

Delta offers its own robust schedule of courses, programs, events, internships and resources. In addition, it collaborates on cross-network projects with CIRTL partners and participates in national offerings, such as MOOCs—massively open online courses—combined with local, in-person group meetings.

Christen Smith believes that her participation in the Delta Program as a doctoral student at UW-Madison is the reason she landed her current position as a chemistry instructor at Madison College. “I didn’t have much teaching experience outside of being a teacher’s assistant for general chemistry. But in this two-year internship through Delta, I developed curriculum and delivered it to the class as a guest lecturer, and I referred to this experience often in my job interview,” recalls Smith, who said internships for graduate students can be hard to come by. “I wouldn’t have been able to convince any instructor to let me teach in class without the support from the Delta Program.”

In addition to CIRTL building local learning communities at each member university, Mathieu emphasizes the importance of developing national connections through network exchanges and virtual courses. “We are connecting the university learning communities online, so graduate students have a far more diverse experience in higher education than just their own campus,” he says. “For instance, a student at Vanderbilt University can also be learning about teaching from another student or professor at Howard University.”

CIRTL is a research experiment in itself, testing whether a mission-driven university network can advance the education and impact of tomorrow’s STEM higher education faculty. The project is supported by the National Science Foundation, Great Lakes High Education Corporation and Affiliates, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

On June 2 and 3, representatives from all 46 CIRTL universities will come together for a national meeting at UW−Madison. “A typical meeting used to be 40 to 45 people. Now it’s going to be 100,” says Mathieu. “The dynamics of everything we are doing at CIRTL is now going to be excitingly different.”

Delta Program and CIRTL Network Contacts:

Don Gillian-Daniel
Associate Director, Delta Program in Research, Teaching and Learning
University of Wisconsin–Madison

Robert Mathieu
Director, CIRTL and Wisconsin Center for Education Research
University of Wisconsin−Madison

Kitch Barnicle
Executive Director, CIRTL

ABOUT CIRTL: The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) began as a National Science Foundation Center for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. CIRTL uses graduate education as the leverage point to develop a national STEM faculty committed to implementing and advancing effective teaching practices for diverse student audiences as part of successful professional careers. The goal of CIRTL is to improve the STEM learning of all students at every college and university, and thereby to increase the diversity in STEM fields and the STEM literacy of the nation.