NSF INCLUDES: Sustainability Teams Empower and Amplify Membership in STEM (S-TEAMS)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017 to Thursday, October 31, 2019
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions
Environment Type: 
Higher Education Programs
Undergraduate/Graduate Students | Administration/Leadership/Policymakers | Scientists | Learning Researchers
Chemistry | Climate | Computing and information science | Ecology, forestry, and agriculture | Education and learning science | Engineering | General STEM | Geoscience and geography | History/policy/law | Life science | Mathematics | Nature of science | Physics | Technology
Access and Inclusion: 
Women and Girls
Low Socioeconomic Status
Montclair State University

The Sustainability Teams Empower and Amplify Membership in STEM (S-TEAMS), an NSF INCLUDES Design and Development Launch Pilot project, will tackle the problem of persistent underrepresentation by low-income, minority, and women students in STEM disciplines and careers through transdisciplinary teamwork. As science is increasingly done in teams, collaborations bring diversity to research. Diverse interactions can support critical thinking, problem-solving, and is a priority among STEM disciplines. By exploring a set of individual contributors that can be effect change through collective impact, this project will explore alternative approaches to broadly enhance diversity in STEM, such as sense of community and perceived program benefit. The S-TEAMS project relies on the use of sustainability as the organizing frame for the deployment of learning communities (teams) that engage deeply with active learning. Studies on the issue of underrepresentation often cite a feeling of isolation and lack of academically supportive networks with other students like themselves as major reasons for a disinclination to pursue education and careers in STEM, even as the numbers of underrepresented groups are increasing in colleges and universities across the country. The growth of sustainability science provides an excellent opportunity to include students from underrepresented groups in supportive teams working together on problems that require expertise in multiple disciplines. Participating students will develop professional skills and strengthen STEM- and sustainability-specific skills through real-world experience in problem solving and team science. Ultimately this project is expected to help increase the number of qualified professionals in the field of sustainability and the number of minorities in the STEM professions.

While there is certainly a clear need to improve engagement and retention of underrepresented groups across the entire spectrum of STEM education - from K-12 through graduate education, and on through career choices - the explicit focus here is on the undergraduate piece of this critical issue. This approach to teamwork makes STEM socialization integral to the active learning process. Five-member transdisciplinary teams, from disciplines such as biology, chemistry, computer and information sciences, geography, geology, mathematics, physics, and sustainability science, will work together for ten weeks in summer 2018 on real-world projects with corporations, government organizations, and nongovernment organizations. Sustainability teams with low participation by underrepresented groups will be compared to those with high representation to gather insights regarding individual and collective engagement, productivity, and ongoing interest in STEM. Such insights will be used to scale up the effort through partnership with New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability (NJHEPS).

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Team Members

Amy TuiningaAmy TuiningaPrincipal Investigator
Ashwani Vasishth Ashwani Vasishth Co-Principal Investigator
Pankaj LaiPankaj LaiCo-Principal Investigator

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