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$5 Million Grant to Grow VIP Program at Boise State, Across U.S.

By: Kathleen Tuck   Published 9:07 am / February 9, 2015

Leona M and Harry B Helmsley Trust LogoBoise State University’s Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) program has been awarded $310,000 over three years as part of a far-reaching $5 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to drive systemic reform of STEM education.

The VIP Program, which was established at Purdue University in 2001, unites large teams of undergraduates with graduate students and faculty to work together on long-term research projects. Boise State’s VIP program is housed in the new College of Innovation and Design, which creates pathways of learning that anticipate the demands and opportunities of an ever-changing world and workplace.

Under the leadership of Georgia Tech and the co-leadership of the University of Michigan, the Helmsley award will support VIP programs at a consortium of schools across the United States, giving the program a foothold in a variety of institutions. These include schools that primarily serve underrepresented, minority or nontraditional students, as well as members of the prestigious Association of American Universities.

Professor Darryl Butt working in the labBoise State currently is piloting its first VIP program, titled “The Science of Art: Preservation and Reverse Engineering of Cultural Heritage.” Led by Darryl Butt, distinguished professor of materials science and engineering and associate director of the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, it comprises students from both art and materials science. Students are studying the science, history and psychology of color in art.

“This VIP course transcends academic borders and offers a unique opportunity for students — from all academic backgrounds — to collaborate together to overcome an identified problem,” said Brittany Cannon, a graduate student in materials science. “The union of the sciences and humanities allows issues, which may have otherwise been too difficult to address from a single perspective, to become manageable.”

Additional VIP programs will launch in fall 2015.

“The Helmsley Charitable Trust is thrilled to support the VIP Consortium’s transformative approach to active learning in engineering,” said Ryan Kelsey, program officer at the trust. “It is very compelling to see such a range of schools across the country that are ready to adopt large-scale, effective practices that we expect will retain more students, particularly more women and students of color.”

The Helmsley Charitable Trust’s education program aims to increase American competitiveness and innovation. At the post-secondary level, it focuses on increasing the number and diversity of college graduates in STEM fields by improving persistence to graduation.

VIP offers an ideal setting for rethinking STEM education because it attracts students of various ages, interests and experiences together for ongoing work. VIP projects can last a decade or more, and undergraduates may spend up to three years with their project teams.

“This is an opportunity for students to become deeply engaged with faculty in solving real world problems while at the same time developing skills such as collaboration and team work that will increase their competitiveness for jobs,” said Sian Mooney, Boise State’s executive director of integrated programs and professor of economics.

The goal of the program is to help students feel more comfortable sticking with STEM fields and pursuing them after college. Organizers wrote in their Helmsley grant proposal that the program “can create the sense of belonging and pride of accomplishment that motivates students to persist through other elements of the STEM curriculum.”

The VIP consortium consists of 15 public and private institutions, including two universities abroad: National Ilan University in Taiwan and the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. The 13 participating U.S. universities include:

  • Boise State University
  • Colorado State University
  • Florida International University
  • Georgia Tech
  • Howard University
  • Morehouse College
  • Purdue University
  • Rice University
  • Texas A&M
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Washington
  • University of Hawaii-Manoa
  • Virginia Commonwealth University