Engineering Professor Receives $2 Million Grant

A Purdue associate professor of engineering education received more than $2 million in funding from the National Science Foundation.

Monica Cardella earned this funding for her research project: “Integrated STEM and Computing Learning in Formal and Informal Settings for Kindergarden to Grade 2.” Essentially, Cardella studies how to best expose young students to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) concepts without drastically changing a teacher’s day-to-day routine. 

Prior research suggests that young students’ belief in their STEM capabilities directly affect their later academic performance. This trend was observed regardless of whether or not their belief was true. Cardella chose to study how younger students learn and maximize their STEM potential by creating an environment that encourages them to learn.

“This age range is one where there is the greatest need and greatest opportunity for impact,” said Cardella.

Cardella believes that there is more fluidity between the various subjects at early ages. Classes at this stage of development are not yet separated into distinct areas such as mathematics, science, language, etc. As a result, Cardella said, educators have a “tremendous opportunity” to use typical classroom materials to create a backdrop for students to solve problems in a STEM-based context. She cited storybooks as a way for students to apply their knowledge in an engaging and interdisciplinary manner.

“By high school, we have already lost too many children,” said Cardella, as a result of a lack of either interest in STEM or the students’ own self-confidence.

Cardella’s project builds off of an established curriculum known as PictureSTEM. It was designed by Purdue’s INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering. INSPIRE Assistant Director Elizabeth Gajdzik described PictureSTEM as a “research-proven integrated STEM curricula.” It emphasizes design-oriented activities that pull together mathematical and engineering concepts in order to motivate students to pursue careers in STEM fields.

“My own daughter experienced the PictureSTEM curriculum,” said Cardella. “Now she’s determined to be an engineer when she grows up.”

Original Source: The Exponent Online, Nov 18, 2015,