The Austin College STAR Leadership Program in the sciences has been awarded a $299,999 grant from the National Science Foundation for the project, “Developing Science Leaders Through Applied Learning Experiences and Reflection.”
The purpose of the project is to support undergraduate research teams, comprised of faculty and students. It will also support independently designed service learning projects to expand the current STEM Teaching and Research (STAR) Leadership Program.
Dr. John Richardson is a biophysical chemist and directs the STAR Leadership Program. He joined the Austin College faculty in 2008 after finishing a postdoctoral fellowship at UT Southwestern Medical Center supported through a grant from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. “The R in STAR stands for research,” Richardson said, “and this grant puts into place a component of the program that we have envisioned from the start. It allows us to move the STAR leadership concept directly into research groups in the science division. Prior to this funding we have focused on leadership theory in the classroom. Now we will be able to engage the students where they will have daily interactions with faculty and peers, responsibilities, accountability and make decisions about actual data that they generated,” Richardson said.
The independent projects will be led by students throughout the academic year, under direction of Richardson; Dr. Lisa M. Brown, professor of psychology; Dr. Lance Barton, professor of biology; and Dr. Steve Goldsmith, professor of biology and dean of sciences. The funding begins in September 2017 and goes through August 2020. Students may apply in the fall with notifications going out in the spring each year.
“The students, either individually or as a group, will develop an idea that is important to them and have complete control of their projects, including the proposal, submission for approval, execution, and assessment,” noted Richardson. “Some examples might include hosting a speaker on STEM topics, organizing a community forum to discuss current events in STEM issues, or conducting an outreach event at a local school.”
Austin College launched the STAR Leadership Program in 2013 to integrate leadership theory into the undergraduate STEM curricula. With STAR, leadership components are embedded into courses to enrich students’ ability to communicate, collaborate, and act responsibly.
“If successful, this may serve as a new model for undergraduate research not only at Austin College but at other colleges as well,” Richardson continued. “Austin College will provide the data needed for other small liberal arts institutions to pilot similar initiatives and will serve as an example for other undergraduate institutions, seeking to enhance STEM curricula, retention, and workforce preparation by incorporating leadership training.”
Austin College, a private national liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas, has earned a reputation for excellence in academic preparation, international study, pre-professional foundations, leadership development, committed faculty, and hands-on, adventurous learning opportunities. One of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives, Austin College boasts a welcoming community that embraces diversity and individuality, with more than 40 percent of students representing ethnic minorities. A residential student body of approximately 1,275 students and a faculty of more than 100 allow a 13:1 student-faculty ratio and personalized attention. The College is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA) and cultivates an inclusive atmosphere that supports students’ faith journeys regardless of religious tradition. Founded in 1849, the College is the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original name and charter.