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Grippo, Costello and Beauchamp Begin Work on NSF-Funded Technical Writing Grant


JONESBORO – While importance of the STEM professions of science, technology, engineering and mathematics is being emphasized in education and industry, an underlying and crucial skill has received less attention.

Professors at Arkansas State University have taken on a project to help students better prepare for a career in the STEM professions.  Through new courses to be developed, students will have new opportunities to become more skilled in technical writing.

Dr. Anne Grippo is principal investigator and Dr. Kristi Costello is co-principal investigator for a cross-disciplinary project, "STEM Writing to Read," just funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).  Other partners include Dr. Airek Beauchamp, assistant professor of English, who helped design and write the grant proposal, and the Office of Behavioral Research and Evaluation (OBRE) in the College of Educational Behavioral Science.

The grant is designed to develop and evaluate a novel approach for helping biology students learn professional writing skills, as well as critical thinking and reading skills.

Grippo, professor of biological sciences and interim dean of the College of Sciences and Mathematics, and Costello, associate professor of English and director of the Writing Program and the Writing Center, analyzed the results of pilot studies in order to develop the newly funded proposal.  NSF approved the grant of just under $300,000 to support their work.

With a two-pronged approach, they will work with English faculty to design two STEM technical writing courses -- one for undergraduate biological sciences majors, and one for STEM and English graduate-level students.

The undergraduate course will be taken concurrently by all students in the Biology of the Cell laboratory class, a required course for biological sciences majors.

Those who complete the graduate-level course also will participate in special training for teachers, then will be assigned to assist students in the undergraduate course.

"Based on our pilot study results, we expect that the undergraduate biology students will improve their technical writing skills, their critical thinking ability, and their ease in reading and interpreting the scientific literature," Grippo stated.  "A-State graduate students in STEM programs and English will attain communication and teaching skills that are crucial to their future careers.  This program will serve as a model to increase all students’ capabilities and progress in STEM, and enhance STEM communication.”

The new course will fill a need because STEM students' writing experience generally has been limited to English composition, which is only the first step in preparing students to write for and beyond the university.  A-State students entering STEM graduate programs will be better prepared for writing at that level.

"Over time, results from the writing courses will be analyzed, both with respect to changes in the way educators work with students, particularly in writing, and to determine whether writing and reading are concurrently improved through this cooperative effort," Costello added.  "Also, this project will assess critical thinking, based on the hypothesis that writing instruction, specifically a model that emphasizes genre awareness, can serve as a vehicle for increasing student understanding and thinking."

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