Seven projects receive Miller undergraduate teaching grants for 2021-22

Senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert approved the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) advisory board's recommendations for Miller Faculty Fellowship funding for the 2021-22 academic year. Grant recipients submitted proposals that focus on improving undergraduate courses to strengthen student learning. Seven projects will share $93,000 in grants.

Miller grants are funded in part ($50,000 annually) through the F. Wendell Miller endowment, managed by the president's office and distributed through CELT. Miller, an attorney and farm manager who died in 1995, stipulated in his will that the bulk of his estate would create the Miller Endowment Trust, with income divided equally between Iowa State and the University of Iowa. Former ISU president Martin Jischke established the faculty fellowship program in 1996.

CELT supplements the Miller trust funding each year.

Projects for 2021-22 are to be completed by June 30, 2022, and a final report submitted by July 31.

The seven funded projects are:

Does Top Hat improve student performance?

Grant: $3,000

Team: Brian Hornbuckle, agronomy, and students Liz Griffin, materials science and engineering; and Audrey McCombs, statistics

Summary: Each semester, approximately 300 ISU classes use the personal response system Top Hat as a learning tool, but there hasn't been an evaluation of its effect on student performance. The team will analyze data from more than 3,000 students enrolled over 14 years in an introductory science class to test the hypothesis that more thinking in the classroom (measured by students answering a higher percentage of Top Hat questions) results in more learning (measured by exam performance). The goal is to improve pedagogy and instructional delivery and increase student performance.


Longitudinal assessment and experimental design for project-based learning in the ISUComm foundation courses (ENGL 150 and 250)

Grant: $15,000

Faculty team: Abram Anders and Amy Walton, English

Summary: The two ISUComm foundation courses enroll about 6,000 students each academic year and teach written, oral, visual and electronic communication skills. The two goals of this project are:

  • Design and implement a longitudinal assessment study using a mixed-methods approach addressing both communication and writing skills and broader impacts on student learning capacities and academic success
  • Design, implement and test innovative instructional strategies through the direct comparison of assessment data for standard and experimental sections of both courses


Spaceflight Operations course

Grant: $15,000

Faculty team: Clayton Anderson, Tomas Gonzalez-Torres and Robert Martin, aerospace engineering; and Nir Keren, agricultural and biosystems engineering

Summary: The team will add training components to the aerospace engineering department's Spaceflight Operations course, now entering its eighth year, that incorporate nuances of NASA astronaut preparation and are intended to train students to think from an operations perspective. These include wilderness preparation and survival, skydiving, flight simulation and others, as well as astronaut training philosophies (for example, punctuality, accepting constructive feedback and persevering through stressful situations).


A history of genocide: Collaborative approaches to teaching about race, violence and the state

Grant: $15,000

Faculty team: Jeremy Best and Brian Behnken, history

Summary: The team will develop a new course that examines racial and genocidal violence by comparing the experiences of Black, Latino/a/x, native and Asian peoples in the United States with Jewish people in Europe and looks at the relationship between state power and racism to understand questions about nationalism and social exclusion/marginalization. The team teaching and experiential learning will include collaboration with museums and public scholars in Iowa and Washington, D.C.


Pressing letters: Integrating printmaking into graphic design and creative writing

Grant: $15,000

Faculty team: Raluca Iancu, art and visual culture; Miriam Martincic and Maurice Meilleur, graphic design; and Debra Marquart, Charissa Menefee and Barbara Haas, English

Summary: Typography is an essential aspect of printmaking, graphic design and creative writing. The team will purchase letterpress equipment and develop class modules to incorporate hands-on letterpress printmaking into 15 existing and two proposed courses in three departments (impacting 450 students). When students create only in a digital format, they often don't understand the connection between the work on a computer screen and its history in moveable type and letterpress.


Enhance lab learning through a new OPERA (Online Platform for Equipment and Remote Assistance) system

Grant: $15,000

Faculty team: Shan Jiang, materials science and engineering; Ann Gansemer-Topf, School of Education; Hantang Qin, industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, Greg Curtzwiler and Xiaolei Shi, food science and human nutrition; and Lingyao Yuan, information systems and business analytics

Summary: The team will build an adaptable online platform that enhances students' lab learning experiences while accommodating diverse learning styles. It will integrate multiple formats of lab assistance, including videos, computer simulations and virtual reality experiences, and share resources from manufacturing and material processing courses -- but apply to many other lab courses. The platform will let students preview and rehearse lab procedures before they collaborate on data collection and analysis during or outside regular lab hours. It will help instructors assemble learning materials, minimize equipment mishandling and reinforce data analysis skills.


Enhanced learning and skill-building by using state-of-the-art CALPHAD software to apply fundamental principles in the thermodynamics and kinetics of materials

Grant: $15,000

Recipient: Ralph Napolitano, materials science and engineering

Summary: The thermodynamics and kinetics of materials are two central pillars of materials engineering, but MatE 311 (Thermodynamics) and MatE314 (Kinetics) remain two of the most challenging courses for students. Napolitano will integrate the commercial software CALPHAD (Calculation of Phase Diagrams) into learning exercises that apply fundamental principles to complex problems in real-world material design and control. The software will provide a backbone for an active-learning approach that helps students develop technical field competencies.