WPI to Host Hands-On Research Experiences for Worcester-Area Teachers to Support K-12 STEM Education

NSF Grant Will Fund Laboratory Opportunities that Use Engineering to Solve Global Problems
Media Contact
October 21, 2021

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) will launch a summer program in 2022 that will improve high school science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in high need Worcester-area schools by immersing teachers—those already working in schools and those preparing to become teachers—in research at WPI laboratories that are using engineering to solve global problems.

A $599,980 grant from the National Science Foundation will fund the three-year project, which will begin recruiting both “pre-service” and “in-service” teachers in early 2022 from schools in Worcester and Leominster, Mass. Established teachers will be paired with WPI students who are preparing to become teachers, and together they will work with WPI faculty members to research solutions to sustainable development goals identified by the United Nations.

Erin Solovey, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science who is affiliated with the Learning Sciences and Technologies program, is principal investigator (PI) on the project; co-PI is Katherine Chen, executive director of WPI’s STEM Education Center.

“It’s difficult for teachers to obtain the authentic STEM research experiences that can be integrated with curriculum in classrooms,” said Solovey, whose research focuses on human-computer interaction. “This program will provide those experiences, which will enable current and future teachers to better prepare diverse students for further education and careers in STEM, while also demonstrating to students how engineering can solve global challenges.”

Five teachers and five WPI Teacher Prep students per year will participate in the six-week sessions, for a total of 15 teachers and 15 students over three years.

The ultimate goal of working with teachers and future teachers is to bring high-quality, purpose-driven STEM education to many more students.
  • Katherine Chen
  • Executive Director, STEM Education Center

Participants will work with WPI faculty members whose research addresses United Nations goals such as ending hunger, ensuring education for all, increasing access to renewable energy, promoting infrastructure, and working toward sustainable production and consumption of goods. Teachers and students will have opportunities to research food safety sensors, brain activity during learning, conversion of food waste to energy, underwater adhesives, and other engineering advances in WPI laboratories.

Participants also will learn about STEM’s role in global challenges, the engineering problem-solving process, state education standards that pertain to student learning, strategies to make learning more accessible and inclusive, and student STEM literacy.


At the end of each six-week session, participants will have developed a lesson plan based on their research to use in their classroom and will present their research results at a scientific symposium. After departing, they will remain connected to one another through WPI’s STEM Education Center programs.

“This project builds on WPI’s Noyce Scholars program, which recruits and prepares WPI students to teach in urban school districts with a high percentage of students considered economically disadvantaged, as well as our work to address a shortage of STEM teachers,” said Chen. “Of course, the ultimate goal of working with teachers and future teachers is to bring high-quality, purpose-driven STEM education to many more students and engage them in solving real-world problems.”

—Lisa Eckelbecker