2007 Reaffirmation Teams :: 2.12 - 2007 Reaffirmation Teams

2007 Reaffirmation Teams

2.12 - 2007 Reaffirmation Teams

The institution has developed an acceptable Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). The acceptability of this document, developed by the institution, is based primarily on the following indicators: (1) a focus on significant issue(s) supporting student learning and accomplishing the mission of the institution, (2) institutional capability for the initiation, implementation, and completion of the Plan, (3) a plan to assess the achievement of the goals of the QEP, and (4) broad-based involvement of institutional constituencies in the development of the Plan.

Compliance Judgment



GEMS: Gateways to Excellence in Math and Science


Gateways to Excellence in Math and Science (GEMS) is The University of Texas at Dallas’ comprehensive plan to enhance the quality of students’ learning in mathematics and science by providing students with innovative, intensive, and active learning experiences both in and out of the classroom. Curriculum alignment, new course design, course redesign, and new modes of curriculum delivery in gateway math and science courses will serve as the foundation to increase the retention of students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas; to decrease the drop, failure, and withdrawal (DFW) rates in STEM classes; and to create supportive, engaging learning opportunities. New courses for both mainstream and honors students in calculus and chemistry will be developed to stimulate students and help prepare them for research opportunities. Using an internally developed alignment method, gateway calculus and general chemistry sequences will be integrated with dependent courses both inside and outside the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM). The establishment of a highly visible Math and Science Success Center will serve as a centralized community of learners where students will be able to receive help with current courses as well as work on self-paced advanced topics. Emporium-style courses will be taught through the Success Center. Staffing will include faculty, teaching assistants (TAs) and supplemental instruction leaders (SIs) who will facilitate deep learning of material through instructional approaches modeled after, for example, MathExcel. A Math and Science Education Council will be formed to foster communication among disciplines and promote innovative ideas for math and science instruction while analyzing student performance and engagement data. These data will be analyzed by the Math and Science Education Council, using an integrated quantitative and qualitative assessment plan to understand fully the student experience. GEMS will provide tangible (data on student learning) and intangible (focus on the undergraduate student learning experience) results that will benefit the entire campus community. The approved QEP and its associated initiatives will be funded through the Office of the President and the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.


The Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) is a required component of the Commission on Colleges accreditation process. The QEP is an in-depth, focused five-year plan with broad-based campus support to enhance student learning significantly at UT Dallas. According to the SACS Handbook for Reaffirmation of Accreditation, the QEP should “complement the institution’s ongoing integrated institution-wide planning and evaluation process” and address “a well-defined topic or issue.” If done correctly, the results of the QEP will extend well beyond the required five-year period and be woven into the fabric of the university. As such, unlike much of the work associated with accreditation, the QEP looks to the future.

The selection of the QEP topic was one of the most important decisions made in 2007. UT Dallas’ QEP was developed from campus-wide conversations about how to improve student achievement. Perhaps equal in importance to the QEP and the potential for its impact on substantive change, the process by which it was selected has brought attention to a range of educational goals unique to UT Dallas.

Topic Selection Process

In May 2006, Executive Vice President and Provost Hobson Wildenthal appointed Associate Professor of Chemistry John Sibert as the QEP director. Dr. Sibert immediately began organizing meetings with faculty, students, staff, alumni, and members of the corporate community to communicate the QEP process and solicit input for potential topics. Follow-up meetings with various members of the campus community continue to this date. The data collected from these meetings were supported by e-mail [1], website submissions [2] and internally-developed worksheets [3]. In addition, Dr. Sibert created a blog to facilitate discussion about education [4]. The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) was especially helpful in identifying weaknesses and strengths pertaining to student learning experiences at UT Dallas [5] [6], as were the data supplied by the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Education on student performance in various courses on campus. The documented, substandard performance of students in calculus and general chemistry, the anecdotal evidence from focus groups of the poor engagement/preparation in mathematics, and the large student migration away from STEM degree programs soon made it absolutely clear that student performance in the gateway math and science courses at UT Dallas was a major concern for the campus community as a whole. A sixteen-member QEP Council with broad campus representation was assembled to analyze and discuss the data that had been collected and to finalize a focused QEP topic-GEMS: Gateways to Excellence in Math and Science.

QEP Council Members
  • John Sibert - QEP director; associate professor, Chemistry
  • Kim Aaron - lecturer, associate dean, Student Life, UT Dallas alumna
  • Mary Chaffin - associate dean of undergraduate studies, School of Management
  • Matt Goeckner - associate professor, Electrical Engineering
  • Arthur Gregg - director, Multicultural Center
  • Jessica Harpham - undergraduate student
  • Jennifer Holmes - associate professor, Economic, Political and Policy Sciences
  • David Lewis - senior lecturer II, Mathematics
  • Christa McIntyre - assistant professor, Behavioral and Brain Sciences
  • Homer Montgomery - associate professor, Science Education
  • Jody Nelsen - associate vice president, Business Affairs
  • Robert Nelsen - vice provost; associate professor, Arts & Humanities
  • Susan Rogers - vice president, Communications
  • April Taylor - undergraduate student
  • Mary Jo Venetis - associate director, McDermott Library
  • Scott Wright - associate dean and director, Health Professions Advising Center
Math/Science Education - A National Problem

The generally poor performance of American students in math and science at the K-12 levels has been the subject of numerous reports in both technical and lay journals. Not surprisingly, there has been a growing concern with respect to both the interest and ability levels of college students in the same areas. This problem has attracted the attention of academic institutions and the federal government. With respect to the former, there are numerous examples, notably the calculus reform movement, in which individual faculty or departments challenge traditional pedagogical methods, often with considerable resistance. In the congressionally requested report Rising Above the Gathering Storm [7], a distinguished Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy (COSEPUP) - comprised largely of members from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine - listed as the first of its four recommendations the need to increase America’s talent pool by vastly improving mathematics and science education. The committee specifically noted the poor student performance nationally in math and science in K-14 and the high attrition rates for undergraduate students in majors who depend upon a strong foundation in math and science. Similarly, Congressman Bart Gordon (D-TN), chair of the Science and Technology Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, has argued, “Because the foundation for future success is a well-educated workforce, the necessary first step in any competitiveness agenda is to improve science and mathematics education [8].” Clearly, if the U.S. is to compete in the increasingly flat, global marketplace of ideas and technology, there is a genuine need and a pressing directive to invest in efforts to enhance student learning in math and science.

Math/Science Education - A UT Dallas Problem

Brief History: UT Dallas is a relatively young institution [9]. The university, authorized by Section 70.01 of the Texas Education Code (TEC) [10], began as a restructured Southwest Center for Advanced Studies (SCAS). Based on the vision that high quality education in science and technology was integral to the future development of the economy of North Texas, the center immediately recruited national and international scientific talent. The university originally offered only graduate degrees in the sciences, but in 1975, the university added junior and senior students and expanded its offerings into the arts and humanities as well as the social sciences. In 1990, the Texas Legislature authorized UT Dallas to admit freshmen. Throughout the transition of the university from a private research center to a full-fledged university, there has been a continued emphasis on math and science education and the preparation of students who can transform ideas into actions and new technology. With such a strong emphasis on research in STEM areas in both its history and future plans, UT Dallas is well-positioned to be a leader in the innovative engagement and education of students in STEM content both in and out of the classroom (as stipulated in the university’s recently completed strategic plan, “Creating the Future” [11]).

Student Performance Problems in Calculus and Chemistry: A recent article in the journal Science describes a direct link to student success in future science courses based on the level of rigorous preparation in math courses [12]. UT Dallas, like all academic institutions, has a number of undergraduate degree programs that require mastery of mathematical skills. As such, the placement of students and their subsequent performance in introductory math courses strongly influences student retention within degree programs (especially STEM programs) and future success (particularly regarding career choices). Because of UT Dallas’ emphasis on science, engineering, mathematics, and the management of new technologies, these introductory (gateway) courses take on an even greater significance for UT Dallas’ student population.

For more than a year, the performance of students in precalculus and calculus courses has been under scrutiny by the university at large and by math advisory and focus groups. These groups have published some remarkable studies-the full reports are supplied in the supporting documents [13] [14] [15]. The following discussion highlights several of the more significant problems. UT Dallas offers two calculus sequences, Calculus I and II (MATH 2417 and MATH 2419) for science, engineering, and computer science majors; and Applied Calculus I and II for business majors (MATH 1325 and MATH 1326). Traditional freshmen are placed in MATH 2417 if they achieve a score of 630 or higher on the SAT II placement exam. Analysis of student throughput data for the two-semester sequence shows that approximately 33% of those who begin MATH 2417 successfully complete both MATH 2417 and 2419 sequentially. This analysis is somewhat deceiving because of the differing student populations that take calculus. Traditional freshmen fare much better than non-entering freshmen (transfer students, students retaking the courses, and students who scored lower than 630 on the SAT II and have taken lower level math prerequisites). Non-entering freshmen qualify for MATH 2417 by receiving a grade of “C-” in precalculus-MATH 2312-at UT Dallas or the equivalent from another institution. In fall 2005, only 85 of the original 327 students enrolled in MATH 2312 completed MATH 2417 with a grade of “C” or better, which results in a two semester throughput of approximately 25%. The poor performance in these gateway courses contributes, in part, to the data that demonstrate over a four year period (2002-05) an exodus of declared majors in engineering, computer science, mathematics and the natural sciences to other less mathematically intensive degree programs between the freshman and sophomore years [16].

Math courses are not the only courses that present problems for UT Dallas’ undergraduates who come to the university committed to careers in science, engineering, management, and healthcare. In particular, General Chemistry I and II (CHEM 1311 and CHEM 1312, respectively) are traditionally viewed as two of the more demanding freshman level courses. Poor student performance, as defined by percentage of “D” and “F” grades and student withdrawals, in general chemistry has been a recent focus of the Office of Undergraduate Education [17] [18]. Analysis over a two year span (2004 and 2005) revealed that 30 to 40 % of the students in CHEM 1311 failed to achieve a grade of “C” or higher. As this course typically serves first semester freshmen, it is a significant contributor to student retention and success in science tracks. In addition, complaints about the associated laboratories (CHEM 1111 and 1112) in terms of challenge and interest have become a recurring theme in conversations with students.

The bottom line of this discussion is that an institution that prides itself on preparing students for careers in science, technology, and business, as does UT Dallas, must seek new and better ways to provide an excellent foundation in the mathematical scientific skills required of these disciplines if the students are to succeed.

GEMS: Gateways to Excellence in Math and Science

Vision Statement: To achieve excellence in both student engagement and student performance in math and science gateway courses and dependent degree tracks.

Mission: The mission of GEMS is to ensure the opportunities for academic success and to enhance the quality of student learning in math and science gateway courses by providing students with innovative, intensive, and effective learning opportunities.


  • To improve student performance in calculus and applied calculus course sequences
  • To improve student performance in the general chemistry course sequence
  • To increase opportunities for student engagement in introductory math and science courses
  • To increase the success of students in higher-level courses that depend upon general chemistry and calculus as pre-requisites
  • To assist faculty in learning, integrating and assessing innovative teaching strategies in math and science courses

Overview: Course design (and, in some cases, redesign) and curriculum alignment of key gateway courses in math and science are the cornerstones of GEMS. These elements will facilitate improved and more relevant class content that will lead directly to enhanced student learning and engagement for a large percentage of the student body. A number of significant resources and tools will be developed to help achieve the GEMS objectives as UT Dallas continues to evolve into what UT Dallas’ strategic plan challenges the university to be: “A first-rank public university with focused centers of excellence, prepared to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing, technology-driven global society” and “One of the most creative, innovative universities in the nation and the world [11].” To achieve these outcomes, GEMS will use a series of distinct yet integrated strategies, including peer instruction, computer-aided learning, inquiry-based learning, faculty actively engaged in undergraduate education, preparation and advising of transfer students, instructor development, and innovative instruction of large enrollment courses. These initiatives, and the specifics discussed below, will be fully funded through the Office of the President and the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.

Math/Science Education-The Beginnings of a Solution

Course Design and Redesign: The existing calculus (MATH 2417 and 2419) and general chemistry sequences (CHEM 1311 and 1312) will be examined as part of the curriculum alignment component of GEMS with subsequent redesign as needed. A newly established Math and Science Education Council will be apprised of existing student performance data and the conclusions of math focus groups to oversee discussions on course redesign while keeping in mind the needs of all constituent groups served by the mathematics department. A new precalculus-calculus sequence will be developed to facilitate the success of non-entering freshmen and transfer students. New honors calculus and general chemistry (with associated laboratory) courses will be designed to engage students more fully while preparing for their participation in research as early as the end of the freshmen year.

Consistent with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s initiative to teach classes more efficiently with enhanced student learning and UT Dallas’ expertise in technology, sections of selected mathematics courses (initially MATH 1325 - Applied Calculus I) will be taught in a computer-aided, emporium style based on Virginia Tech’s Math Emporium [19], using the new Math and Science Success Center as the venue. Staffed by faculty, TAs, and SIs, the Success Center will offer assistance on an as-needed basis. The university will use an experimental design approach in which simultaneous sections of the selected core mathematics courses will be taught in both the emporium and the traditional formats to gauge the differences in the impact on student learning and satisfaction.

Assessment/remediation software will be used (for example, ALEKS, a web-based artificially intelligent assessment and learning system) to better identify student proficiency in specific algebra skills, thereby allowing more appropriate course placement of incoming or transfer students. If the assessment indicates a lack of proficiency in a predetermined set of skills, the computer-based remediation component will be used to improve the deficient skills. The remediation component will take advantage of the Math and Science Success Center’s resources while running concurrently with the course.

Curriculum Alignment: Curriculum alignment provides for an efficient sequencing of courses and learning objectives to allow students and faculty to connect content in relevant and coherent ways, which is particularly important for gateway courses. UT Dallas plans to implement a “concept-mapping” model, developed by Matt Goeckner (associate professor of electrical engineering), that has been successfully used to align the curriculum in engineering with the gateway courses in math and chemistry and integrate those courses with the dependent courses both inside and outside NSM. Goeckner’s model is linked to an understanding of how people learn and how creative individuals develop new ideas. Further, it gives greater control over the learning environment to both faculty and students.

Math and Science Education Council: A standing Math and Science Education Council that includes representation from faculty, students, and area community colleges will be created to evaluate and to act on student performance data in math and science courses while facilitating dialogue among stakeholders of common needs in mathematics and science education. The Council will promote innovative ideas for mathematics and science instruction, including those based on effective use of technology and on implications from emerging research on science/mathematics learning (e.g., computer-aided learning, inquiry-based learning, experiential learning, and peer instruction). The Council will also organize a seminar series focused on math and science education at the university level where participants will be able to share insights with distinguished speakers such as Robert Hilborn, Carl Wieman, Russell Hulse, and Kris Rogers. Additionally, the Council will disseminate teaching innovation grants to existing faculty to provide resources and rewards for incorporating innovative math and science instruction. Finally, the Council will identify and promote excellence in mathematics and science instruction by serving as an advisory board to the Math and Science Success Center.

Math and Science Success Center: UT Dallas will create a Math and Science Success Center. The Center will be located in a highly visible, centralized, inviting space and will be used for all aspects of learning, from remediation to current class content and to self-paced advanced topics. The Center will function as an extension of the classroom and laboratory. The Director will be a faculty member whose research interests and funding sources are in math education at the undergraduate level. The director will play a key role in initiating opportunities and providing information for faculty in instructional strategies, resources, and use of the Success Center. The Center will be staffed with an SI program [20], TAs, and students in the UTEACH program [21] while housing a recitation space configured with shared space for group work and unassigned office space for instructors and faculty to use. MathExcel and ChemExcel recitation groups [22] [23] will be formed through the Success Center to provide help with current content and to develop problem solving skills. The Center will house computer facilities for course-relevant software, online content and tutorials, “dry” labs, and emporium-style teaching opportunities. It will be open on Saturdays for high school tutoring.

Instructor Development: Faculty, TA and SI development initiatives will be introduced with input from the individual departments and the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). Two luncheons will be held in the fall and three in the spring, at which previously identified excellent teachers will introduce and comment on an instructional topic to stimulate open, informal discussion.

Student Engagement: Student engagement is at the core of retention and academic success. Introductory lecture and laboratory courses will be redesigned to provide more relevant and problem-solving based experiences. GEMS will facilitate an early start for participation in research and creative activity through the introduction of honors courses and experiences in NSM. For example, lower division honors labs will be designed to prepare students for research as early as the end of their freshman year while developing the next generation of SIs.


GEMS will be assessed with both qualitative and quantitative methods. Below are representative questions along with the assessment methods that will be used to answer the questions.

Q1: To what extent will DFW rates decrease in calculus and chemistry the semester the newly-redesigned courses and the Math and Science Success Center are introduced?

Quantitative assessment methods: difference measure between previous semester’s DFW rate and first semester’s DFW rate, difference measure between average of previous four semesters’ DFW rates and first four semesters’ DFW rates after introduction of calculus and chemistry course improvements.

Q2: How will different target groups of students achieve different levels of learning after newly-redesigned courses and the Math and Science Success Center are introduced?

Quantitative assessment methods: between-group analyses (groups are honors students, academic bridge students, high-achieving/low-performing students, and a random group of average students) on numbers of times students use the math and science success center (id cards read at door), scores on problem-solving exercises at midterm, scores on problem-solving exercises at final, midterm and end of semester numerical grades, and students’ predictions of their own grades at midterm and final.

Qualitative assessment methods: questionnaire about experiences at midterm, questionnaire about experiences at the end of the semester, self-reflection essays as homework assignments.

Q3: How will students’ usage of the Math and Science Success Center be evident to faculty members based on students’ in-class performance?

Qualitative assessment methods: Interviews of faculty before course redesign and Math and Science Success Center and interviews of faculty after implementations.

Q4: How will students’ positive impressions of learning calculus and chemistry increase and their negative emotions about calculus and chemistry decrease after course redesign and using the Math and Science Success Center?

Quantitative assessment methods: Affect and motivation scale given to students the semester before the interventions and the same scales given to students after the interventions.

Qualitative assessment: focus groups and individual student interviews.

Supporting Documents

Footnote Document
[1]QEP E-mail Submissions
PDF Document, 128 Pages, 4.73 MB (report1386)
[2]QEP Website Submissions
PDF Document, 49 Pages, 1.63 MB (report1384)
[3]QEP Supporting Documentation Worksheets
PDF Document, 24 Pages, 879.67 KB (survey1018)
[4]QEP Blog Entries
PDF Document, 7 Pages, 233.99 KB (report1383)
[5]NSSE Data 2003-2006
PDF Document, 1 Page, 25.37 KB (data1002)
[6]NSSE 2006 Executive Summary
PDF Document, 12 Pages, 506.50 KB (report1102)
[7]Printed testimony of members of the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy regarding recommendations to improve mathematics and science education
PDF Document, 17 Pages, 86.81 KB (publication1150)
[8]Publication: An article by Congressman Bart Gordon (D-TN) who supports improvement of STEM education programs to enhance student competitiveness in the global economy
PDF Document, 4 Pages, 33.65 KB (publication1153)
[9]The History of UT Dallas screen capture from the UT Dallas web site
PDF Document, 3 Pages, 92.39 KB (publication1154)
[10]Texas Education Code 70 - Current version, with Section 70.08 repealed, regarding UT Dallas
PDF Document, 1 Page, 36.11 KB (bylaw1067)
[11]UT Dallas Strategic Plan
PDF Document, 25 Pages, 137.29 KB (plan1033)
[12]Journal article from Science emphasizing the two elements of high school education to support college science educational programming
PDF Document, 2 Pages, 177.26 KB (publication1160)
[13]Placement and Performance in Math Gateway Classes 2006
PDF Document, 8 Pages, 45.07 KB (report1382)
[14]Math 2417 Calculus I Follow-up and Attendance Study Report Fall 2006
PDF Document, 11 Pages, 158.28 KB (report1096)
[15]Math 2417 Grades and Distribution Fall 2005
PDF Document, 11 Pages, 26.44 KB (report1381)
[16]Freshman to Sophomore Migration 2002-2006
PDF Document, 1 Page, 25.52 KB (table1066)
[17]Table: Freshman Fall Chemistry I Grade Chart Fall 03, Fall 04, Fall 05
PDF Document, 2 Pages, 63.49 KB (table1067)
[18]Memo 07-06-2006 - General Chemistry I Fall 2005 Grades
PDF Document, 3 Pages, 35.88 KB (memo1082)
[19]CrossTalk article about the Virginia Tech Math Emporium model and its success
PDF Document, 8 Pages, 199.61 KB (publication1158)
[20]Grade Comparisons and Withdrawal Rates of Participants and Non-Participants in Supplemental Instruction Fall 2003-Spring 2007
PDF Document, 11 Pages, 41.76 KB (report1342)
[21]UTEACH-DALLAS Program in Math/Science Education
PDF Document, 2 Pages, 63.98 KB (publication1139)
[22]Information page for students about the Math Excel Calculus program at the University of Kentucky
PDF Document, 1 Page, 150.06 KB (publication1155)
[23]History of the CHEMEXCEL instructional model at the University of Kentucky
PDF Document, 4 Pages, 29.13 KB (publication1157)