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Progress Toward Achieving Systemic Change

Progress Toward Achieving Systemic Change

In September 2011, the Association of American Universities launched a major initiative to improve undergraduate STEM education. The overall objective was to influence the culture of STEM departments at AAU institutions so that faculty members are encouraged and supported to use teaching practices proven by research to be effective in engaging students in STEM education and in helping students learn. Progress Toward Achieving Systemic Change provides a five-year status report on the AAU Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative.


The Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative’s intent was to help research universities better assess and improve the quality of teaching in STEM fields by:

  • Promoting the use of teaching techniques in STEM classes demonstrated by scholarship to be the most effective at engaging and helping students learn
  • Encouraging universities and STEM departments to better evaluate, recognize and reward faculty members for the quality and effectiveness of their teaching
  • Facilitating the creation of an effective network for disseminating and sharing best practices in undergraduate STEM education reform and classroom-based educational improvements.

 AAU’s Initiative was not launched with the intention of producing yet another report. Instead, its aim was to encourage and support research universities to act upon and implement recommendations already made in national reports.

The initiative was, in some sense, an experiment to see if as a leading association of research universities, AAU could facilitate meaningful and long-lasting systemic change in undergraduate STEM education by providing its members with a framework accompanied by additional tools, support, and encouragement.

To help with this effort, AAU established a project team and convened an advisory committee composed of experts in undergraduate STEM teaching and learning. It also established five overarching goals for the initiative:

  • Develop an effective analytical framework for assessing and improving the quality of STEM teaching and learning, particularly in the first two years of college.
  • Support AAU STEM project sites at a subset of AAU universities to implement the Framework, and develop a broader network of AAU universities committed to implementing STEM teaching and learning reforms.
  • Explore means that institutions and departments can use to train, recognize, and reward faculty members who want to improve the quality and effectiveness of their STEM teaching.
  • Work with federal research agencies to develop means of recognizing, rewarding and promoting efforts to improve undergraduate learning.
  • Develop effective means for sharing information about promising and effective undergraduate STEM education programs, approaches, methods, and pedagogies.

Since the Initiative was launched, AAU has received 11 grants ($7.9M) from private and corporate foundations and the federal government to advance the Initiative. Progress Toward Achieving Systemic Change provides a five-year status report on the AAU Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative.

Engagement by AAU Universities

AAU universities have demonstrated widespread enthusiasm and interest in the initiative.

AAU STEM Project SItes

Central to the project site reforms was the role of the academic department and its faculty members.

Examining the Impact

Evaluation is a key component of the initiative.

Progress Toward Institutional Change

AAU universities are successfully implementing strategies to achieve long-lasting improvements in undergraduate STEM teaching and learning.

Resources for Universities

AAU has developed resources to help research universities take a systems perspective to improving undergraduate STEM education.

Sustaining the Momentum

AAU is committed to improving STEM education at research universities.