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Kilic working with student

DoD Grant Takes Collaboration Between UT Institutions, 4-H to the Next Level

Goal is to Increase Access to STEM Degrees via Engaged K-12 STEM Education


Education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields has emerged as a hot topic in the last couple of decades, with its importance to developing and expanding the economy and workforce opportunities in key industries hard to overstate.

One area with an ever-increasing need of highly trained STEM employees is national defense, and a recent grant from the Department of the Navy’s STEM Education and Workforce Program will provide the University of Tennessee the opportunity to help meet those needs.

“STEM Education and Apprenticeship Liaison,” or, SEAL for Navy, will be administered by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and allow for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT), the UT Space Institute (UTSI), and the UT Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) to boost K-12 STEM education in the state.

“This is a unique opportunity for us to come together and impact the future educational, research, and employment opportunities for youth in Tennessee,” said Tickle College of Engineering (TCE) Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Ozlem Kilic, the principal investigator of the project. “This is also the first sponsored partnership between TCE and 4H to serve our nation’s workforce needs for STEM education. SEAL for Navy will be a platform for Tennessee students to be instructed in fields that will align with national workforce needs and help those efforts for years to come.”

Notably, the grant establishes the first externally funded partnership between UT’s Tickle College of Engineering and 4-H Youth Development.

According to plans, the group will focus on four areas:

  • Developing new curricula and activities for students
  • Finding areas where students from grades 6-12 can be engaged
  • Providing chances for mentorship
  • Taking on partnership opportunities with the Navy as they arise.

In particular, the team believes that hands-on activities and events will encourage student participation, and that mentorship possibilities will be available for the full K-12 range of students.

TCE and UTIA have already collaborated on previous STEM initiatives, including the One UT, Thousands of STEMs program which supports ideas and projects that “help UT better connect with communities through outreach and engagement, inspiring the next generation of creative thinkers and thought leaders.” Kilic was also the lead on that effort.

“Our college, along with UTIA, has been streamlining the ability of our faculty to take on proposals that require expertise from both, especially engaging with 4H for broadening participation activities,” said Kilic. “This grant is a great example of this strong collaboration between TCE and 4H, and the activities we develop under SEAL will be accessible to all faculty who want to leverage these in their grant proposals. Another key component of our plans that I am truly excited about is the seamless integration of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in all our activities.”

The co-principal investigators on the project are UTIA Extension Specialist for 4-H Camping and STEM programs Daniel Collins, Mechanical Engineering Professor Xiaopeng Zhao and Director of the Office of Student Success Anne Skutnik, both from TCE, and UTSI H.H. Arnold Chair in Computational Fluid Dynamics and B.H. Goethert Professor John Schmisseur. UT’s Lorna Hollowell and UTIA’s Craig Pickett, of their respective offices of equity and diversity, will ensure those components are met, while National Institute for STEM Evaluation and Research (NISER)will serve as the program’s assessor.

Other faculty members from TCE are Professor Tony Schmitz, Associate Professor Daniel Costinett and Assistant Professors Andrew Dickerson, Amir Sadovnik, Devina Sanjaya, Shuai Li, and Zhenbo Wang.

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