Project Profile

Biology Meets Engineering: Expanding Transdisciplinary STEM Education


The University of Cincinnati will scale a unique model for transdisciplinary learning inspired by cross-innovation in both biology and robotics. The project will expand the University of Cincinnati’s transdisciplinary innovation hub to student populations across three states (Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana), which will increase student participation from two local high schools and one University-associated internship site to 10 schools and four internship sites at the University of Cincinnati, Bowling Green State University, University of Akron, and Ohio University. Scaling within each state will extend transdisciplinary instruction and learning to different student and teacher populations both rural and urban with underrepresented and underserved populations, and to new regions within a state-wide educational system. The modern STEM workforce needs diverse, cross-trained professionals with both strength in their discipline and the ability to address complex scientific problems. To meet the needs of the scientific and technological workforce, the project will educate students and train teachers in concepts that bridge biology, technology, and engineering disciplines, demonstrating the interrelatedness between science and engineering using innovative technological advances. Participating high school students will study the behavior of biological organisms and learn how to apply animal behavior to the design of their own autonomous robots (animal-robot sensorimotor systems). Student interns will work with near-peer undergraduate and graduate student researchers and faculty mentors to actively engage in ongoing research in biology and/or engineering laboratories where they will participate in the design and execution of experiments and the collection, management, and analysis of collected data. The project connects students and teachers with locally-relevant science, engineering, and technology industry partners to see how science and engineering are applied to solve critical problems for the benefit of society. In parallel, the project will create school-to-university internship sites that connect the transdisciplinary knowledge gained by students with real-world experience. Project activities will provide students with conceptual knowledge, practical research skills, and awareness of career pathways in the biological sciences and robotics industries.

With the introduction of the curriculum across states, researchers will test the robustness and replication of the intervention across state boundaries that differ in their educational standards. Researchers will study the impacts of the transdisciplinary curriculum and research internships on students’ learning, interest, and self-efficacy in STEM, and teachers’ implementation of a transdisciplinary curriculum in ways that are responsive to local school contexts. Investigators will study, (1) What is the impact of transdisciplinary learning and real-world application via research internships on students’ scientific inquiry practices?, (2) What is the impact of transdisciplinary learning and real-world application on students’ interest and self-efficacy in STEM?, and (3) What changes do teachers make in how they teach through a transdisciplinary curriculum in ways that are responsive to their local school contexts? Researchers will use written science inquiry assessments and surveys of students’ STEM interest and self-efficacy to document the impact of the transdisciplinary curriculum on student outcomes through a multilevel design to account for variation among teachers, classrooms, and schools. Additionally, the project will provide a scaled model of how science, technology, and engineering practices can be cultivated through culturally responsive teaching, and evidence of how teachers learn how to implement transdisciplinary learning. This project will have broader impacts by documenting how transdisciplinary learning can impact students’ interest and self-efficacy in STEM, informing the design of future interventions to incorporate more features of transdisciplinary practice. Findings will impact transdisciplinary education research and practice in areas of teacher practice, teacher preparation, and professional development. Beyond its immediate impacts, the project scales, extends, and implements a set of experiences in transdisciplinary thought and problem solving to prepare students for modern STEM careers in rapidly emerging transdisciplinary areas of biology, technology, and engineering. The study of the curriculum across states will test the robustness and replication of the innovation across state boundaries that differ in their educational standards. This Scaling, Expanding, and Iterating (SEI) project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.


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Award Number
Project Duration
2024 - 2029
University of Cincinnati Main Campus
Project Status