New UT-Based National Institute Explores Evaluation Science

A new national institute has been established at UT to provide independent evaluations of research and education programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

The National Institute for STEM Evaluation and Research (NISER) will provide evaluation services to academia, government, and the nonprofit sector and will also generate new knowledge about the ways in which integrated STEM programs function successfully.

The institute began as a pilot program in 2015 at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), based at UT. It has since grown to collaborate with more than 30 departments in 14 higher education institutions in the United States on the submission of more than 50 grant proposals. Many of the proposals were developed with departments at UT including chemistry, microbiology, ecology and evolutionary biology, biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology, teacher education, materials science and engineering. Additionally, it has taken the lead in designing interdisciplinary evaluation instruments and developing evaluation workshops.

NISER is currently collaborating on nine proposals that have secured nearly $6.8 million in funding. Many of the projects focus on improving postsecondary STEM education, including curriculum improvement, student recruitment and retention, and faculty education. A particular focus has been expanding the inclusion of underrepresented students in STEM education.

NISER’s evaluation expertise involves analyzing results based a project’s intended outcomes. The institute provides ongoing feedback to project stakeholders about program accomplishments and challenges so they can make data-informed decisions toward program improvement. Using formative data collected over the life cycle of a project, NISER can evaluate whether a program succeeded in meeting its stated goals and which parts of the program appear to be sustainable beyond the funding cycle.

The institute fills a much-needed niche in STEM-focused program evaluation, said NISER Director Pamela Bishop.

“In a commitment to using taxpayer dollars effectively and efficiently, federal agencies have increasingly emphasized the need for rigorous evaluations to inform program decisions,” Bishop said, citing the 2016 federal budget investment of $1.5 billion in what it calls “tiered evidence” grants, which support the growth of successful programs.

NISER is also developing evaluation workshops to educate STEM faculty about program evaluation and to build a community of STEM evaluators for sharing best practices, lessons learned and useful evaluation tools and methods.

A national evaluation conference hosted by NISER is planned for February 2017. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the conference will guide the evaluation component of a major NSF program.

NISER, which remains a subsidiary of NIMBioS, is staffed by two full-time employees in addition to a postdoctoral fellow and a graduate research assistant. NISER plans to hire additional employees as it grows.

More information about NISER can be found online.

NIMBioS, which is located on the UT campus, fosters new collaborative efforts to investigate biological questions using mathematical and computational methods.

CONTACT:

Catherine Crawley, NIMBioS Communications Manager (865-974-9350, ccrawley@nimbios.org)

Lola Alapo, UT Media Relations (865-974-3993, lalapo@utk.edu)