The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a grant to Texas Lutheran University (TLU) totaling $298,542 for the program “Mathematical and Statistical Projects Across the Curriculum: Empowering Non-STEM Students to Appreciate and Use Quantitative Modeling.” Led by Math, Computer Science, and Information Systems Department Chair Dr. Reza Abbasian and Math Professor Dr. John Sieben, the project will serve a national interest to improve attitudes, awareness, and use of quantitative modeling among students in the social sciences, applied sciences, arts, humanities, and biology.
This is the second NSF grant awarded to TLU in 2019 and the program will officially start during the upcoming academic year, lasting through September 2022.
Dr. Abbasian says a fear of the complexity of quantitative methods on the part of both non-STEM faculty and students separates many from just how useful they can be. However, he hopes after a successful experience with this program attitudes will improve, and both faculty and students will have an additional methodology to apply in their own field of study.
“Most areas outside of the STEM disciplines have kind of a negative view of quantitative modeling,” Abbasian said. “While you do still need some mathematical and statistical knowledge to complete certain tasks, it’s not like how it was maybe 30 years ago where you needed a lot of mathematical knowledge and lengthy calculations to do a project because there wasn’t any user-friendly software.”
Through dynamic, course-embedded modules that will be incorporated in a cross-disciplinary scope beyond math-specific courses, the project design team—mathematics faculty paired with faculty from other majors—will create technology-based modeling projects. With faculty from Philosophy, Political Science, Kinesiology, Psychology, Biology, and Visual Arts slated to participate, Abbasian says success will be measured by how attitudes change toward quantitative modeling.
“I’ve been doing this kind of work for the last 30 years and I know how useful it can be,” he said. “For example, say you have an ethics and morality course where they’re studying impact of poverty around the world. There is a lot of analysis you can do on that. You can ask, ‘what are the factors?’ Is it government? Natural resources? Climate? One can do a statistical analysis and find out the cause as it relates to their own field. What’s most important is the interpretation of that data. We have machines and software now that can do the calculations, but what we do with the findings is most important.”
The goals of the project are not only to improve the attitudes of faculty and students toward use of quantitative methods in non-STEM classes, but to also improve the understanding and use of technology, and to share their findings in a national archive available to other universities.
“During this project we will give numerous presentations at regional and national meetings, sharing our work with the math and statistics community and beyond,” Abbasian said. “The archived material will be accessible to all and easily incorporated into courses. Use of these methods will strengthen students’ preparation for professional life and enhance critical thinking skills.”