PhD student will use NSF grant to improve STEM teaching

Jeff Stern, a first-year doctoral student at the School of Information and the youngest member of the current PhD cohort, has been awarded a 2015 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, for his potential to strengthen the vitality of the US science and engineering enterprise. The fellowship funds three 12-month units of research and study over a five-year period.

Stern’s focus will be on how to improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning environments using alternative assessment techniques, gameful learning principles and community building.

Sixty students at the University of Michigan received NSF fellowships this year. Stern is only the second doctoral student at UMSI to receive this prestigious award; the first was Jasmine Jones in 2013.

Stern graduated from Elon University with a degree in information science in 2014. While in college, he began to develop an interest in increasing students’ engagement with STEM curriculum. He obtained a $15,000 grant from his school to research how fourth and fifth graders interact with informational multi-media content on tablet devices and was chosen to present his findings at the 2014 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI).

In the summer prior to his senior year, he obtained an internship at Google, studying user experience of Google Search, and co-authored a paper that was also accepted at CHI 2014. He was also a finalist in an in-house video competition at Google, proposing a model K-12 school with an open-source computer science curriculum.

To gain STEM teaching experience, he taught a course on Teaching Children to Code, organized a local mini Maker Faire, tutored computer science students, and volunteered in an algebra course at a local high school. He also taught a summer course with the Girls Who Code organization the summer before enrolling at UMSI.

He plans to use his NSF funding to develop better STEM education. “I am excited about the potential to transform education through the design and development of learning technology,” he says. “The work that I will pursue over the next few years has the opportunity to help remedy the talent gap in STEM.”

Read a profile of Jeff Stern.

Posted on April 1, 2015