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Southwestern Faculty Members Receive Grants for Four Collaborative Projects

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    Students in Maria Lowe's Race and Ethnicity class did preliminary research for a collaborative project on the racial climate at Southwestern and in Georgetown (Photo by Carlos Barron).

Projects include one to improve math skills of local elementary school teachers and one to develop a new course on slavery

Four collaborative projects proposed by Southwestern faculty members have received funding for 2010.

The projects are the last to be funded by a three-year, $150,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that was designed to develop collaborative programs among faculty members. Faculty members could apply to use the grant funds for cross-disciplinary projects in one of five areas: study abroad, research, developing new teaching strategies, community-based learning, or diversity.

Math professor Alison Marr and education professors Michael Kamen and Stephen Marble will use a $14,244 grant to implement a program to help local elementary school teachers deepen their understanding of mathematics and explore methods of teaching math.

A teacher’s understanding and attitude toward mathematics can impact student learning. Marr said a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that female elementary school teachers who display “math anxiety” in the classroom can lead their female students to score slightly lower on their math exams than female students who are taught by teachers with more confidence.

The team plans to offer a weeklong workshop this summer in which they will help teachers learn more about a selected mathematical topic that their students struggle with.

“Elementary teachers often have the least amount of formal mathematics training of all mathematics teachers because they don’t specialize in a subject area as part of their post-secondary education,” Marr said. “This workshop and follow-up program will provide elementary teachers with an opportunity to focus on both their mathematics understanding and teaching. They will then be able to apply their new knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject in the classroom.”

The workshop will be offered June 7-11 to teachers in grades 3-5 from Georgetown schools. Marr said they hope the workshop and planned follow-up sessions will help provide teachers with new ways to teach the selected topic and give them more confidence.

Sociology professors Maria Lowe and Reginald Byron will use a $13,584 grant to develop a baseline assessment of how students view the racial climate at Southwestern and in Georgetown.

Preliminary research for this project was already done this semester by students in Lowe’s Race and Ethnicity class. These students will share the results of their survey with the campus community on Tuesday, April 27, at 4 p.m. in the Bishops Lounge. A facilitated discussion will follow at 5 p.m. with representatives from various student organizations.

International studies majors Griffin Ferry and Melissa Garcia will work with Lowe and Byron this summer to complete the project.

Lowe said she hopes the project will help Southwestern achieve its goal of developing a nurturing, diverse learning experience for all its students. She and Byron hope the knowledge gained from their study could serve as a model for other small schools that are committed to enhancing the racial climate on their campuses.

English professors Carina Evans and Elizabeth Stockton will use an $11,367 grant to research the legacy of slavery in Texas and develop a course on the subject that they will teach together beginning in spring 2011.

“Although the state of Texas has a complicated, but intricate history with the institution of slavery, many in Texas communities and schools do not actively grapple with the legacy of slavery,” Evans said. She said she and Stockton will explore some of the reasons for Texas’s removal from its slave-holding past and attempt to recover some of those lost connections. They plan to focus on the history and legacy of slavery in Central Texas, particularly in Williamson County.

“In 2009, Congress passed a resolution that urged an honoring of slave history,” Stockton said. “This research participates in the remembering of a difficult history, beginning with material and literary artifacts in our own state.”

The two plan to spend this summer visiting towns in Texas where slavery and post-bellum African-American communities were most prevalent, such as Galveston and Marshall.

As part of their project, Evans and Stockton will develop a Web site that they hope will serve as a resource for students and other scholars.

Biology professors Maria Todd, Maria Cuevas and Rebecca Sheller will use a $9,559 grant to continue their studies of a tight junction protein known as claudin-3. Elevated levels of claudin-3 may play a role in the development of certain cancers. This is the second Mellon Collaborative Grant the team has received for this research.