Who We Are:
Karen R. Pearson, NSF/TECH-FIT PI | Elaine Maldonado, NSF/TECH-FIT Co-PI

The Project:
Advancing Design-related Technological Education: A Three-way Partnership (TECH-FIT)

Intellectual Merit: This new ATE proposal promotes “thinking green” across the curriculum. Specifically focused on introductory science, it is intended to better prepare FIT’s graduates to meet industry demands for the design, development and manufacture of green and sustainable products such as textiles, toys, home products, cosmetics, and packaging. The current marketplace is demanding highly skilled employees and upper level study. Through innovative curricula and creative pedagogies, faculty will motivate FIT students, eighty-five percent of whom are female, to persist in the study of science and to improve their skills. The goals of this National Science Foundation ATE project at the Fashion Institute of Technology/SUNY are to 1) improve students’ industry-critical science skills and 2) improve teaching effectiveness. The primary audiences are FIT’s two-year college students and science faculty. The secondary audiences are high school students and science faculty from schools such as the High School of the Fashion Industries that typically send students to FIT. The project’s two major foci are Curriculum and Educational Materials Development and Professional Development for Educators.

Optimizing the creative talents of FIT’s students and faculty, scientific invention, as well as student persistence, will be fostered through the following activities: 1) the development and implementation of bi-level, college and high school science modules jointly developed by FIT science faculty, high school teachers and industry partners, 2) the creation of project-based, green/sustainable introductory science curricula based on industry needs, and 3) guided by research on how women learn science, a new teaching model based on a “synthesis of best teaching practices” that includes convenient resources for adjunct faculty. Activities will be anchored by a strengthened three-way bridge from high school, to college, to industry, paving a more seamless pathway from pre-college to workforce

Broader Impact: Although many of FIT’s programs have grown from its origins in the fashion industries, this proposal addresses national and diverse workplace challenges faced by women and the “leaky pipeline” (women who begin in science/ math but who are not retained). For example, national math and science outcomes for female high school students have improved over the last decades, but men continue to far outnumber women in all sectors of STEM employment with one exception: teaching. Gender gaps are greatest in business and industry. (De Welde, Laurensen and Thiry, 2007). This project seeks to contribute to increasing the number of women who find business and industry employment in design-related technology.

Nationally, colleges have lower science and math expectations for students who pursue art/design-related careers than for other fields. Data demonstrate that math and science requirements for many of the most prestigious art/design colleges in this country are far less stringent than for other post-secondary institutions with the exception of architecture. This may be due, in part, to the fact that art schools traditionally focused on fine and commercial art programs. However, these minimal math/science requirements are now problematic because today’s art/design colleges routinely offer degrees in technical fields that include industrial design, interior design, packaging, toy, textile, cosmetics and fragrance and home products development. Today’s ecologically focused global market requires that all students be well informed in science, including art/design students who go on to make critical decisions in the design, development and manufacture of products in these ecologically sensitive fields.

This project will produce nationally replicable products such as its innovative three-way bridge design, bi-level science modules that closely link high school and college industry-based, green science curricula and a creative faculty development model that addresses the needs of our nation’s part-time and off-campus faculty. In the long term, this project will contribute to increasing design-related STEM employment opportunities for women, add to research on how women and art/design students learn science, and contribute to efforts to safeguard the environment and protect the health of citizens. Plans for dissemination will begin locally and expand through the Professional Development Center of the State University of New York, the country’s largest public university system.

Click here to view this project’s award abstract on the NSF website.