The University of Colorado's bid to bolster undergraduate education in science, technology, engineering and math is being boosted by an infusion of $500,000 over the next three years from the Association of American Universities.

CU is one of eight project sites announced Tuesday as a recipient of that funding. Each of the eight is to receive $500,000 over the next three years.

The CU initiative will be run out of the university's recently formed Center for STEM Learning. Its focus will be on working with professors who teach undergraduate STEM classes, helping them objectively determine the success of their teaching methods. Those evaluations will complement student course evaluations that are completed at the end of semesters.

The grant money will be used, in part, to hire project staff who will help participating faculty members interpret the newly collected evaluation data at each semester's end, and then devise a plan to improve their future teaching methods.

"It's nice to have the money. It's tremendous," said CU physics Professor Noah Finkelstein, a director of the Center for STEM Learning. "This is showcasing the importance of STEM education and CU as a leader in this. It will be enormous for our campus, the system, the state and as the national effort.

"I'm thrilled about this."

Traditionally, the primary tool for judging a faculty member's teaching has been end-of-course student evaluations, which some see as not particularly effective for how successful a particular course was in meeting all the learning objectives, according to Finkeltstein.

CU and other leading universities over the past decade have developed a menu of tools that are believed to better assess the impacts of particular teaching practices. CU's new project will work with faculty on a voluntary basis to find the most appropriate evaluation tools and implement them in their classrooms.

CU's Center for STEM Learning was launched in December and coordinates more than 75 existing programs across 14 departments and six colleges on campus. Previously, it was named as recipient of a $4.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, to further work on determining why college students are leaving STEM majors.

The AAU initiative was funded through a three-year, $4.7 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust last October. That initiative also received a two-year, $284,000 grant from the National Science Foundation in May.

"This connects us to a national network and national movement that is leading in STEM educational transformation," Finkelstein said. "And, as such, to be part of this network, part of this community, it is a huge feather in the cap for our campus, a tremendous resource for the state of Colorado.

"We are one of the few states selected, and we fully anticipate contributing and leading in the national dialogue around STEM educational transformation."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327 or brennanc@dailycamera.com.