Fellowship connects STEM graduate students to public service with $500k NSF grant

A new initiative at UW–Madison will take an innovative approach to scientific training for graduate students by providing opportunities to incorporate long-term community engagement projects into their scientific areas of interest.

The Wisconsin Institute for Science Education and Community Engagement (WISCIENCE), part of the Collaborative for Advancing Learning and Teaching, has been awarded nearly $500,000 by the National Science Foundation’s Innovations in Graduate Education program. The program encourages institutions to develop bold, transformative approaches to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduate education.

Anna Courtier, WISCIENCE director of service learning, and Jessica TeSlaa, assistant faculty associate with WISCIENCE, will collaborate with campus and community partners to launch the Public Service Graduate Fellows program.

“The focus of this new program on public outreach, service, and the Wisconsin Idea is a welcome addition to the Collaborative’s portfolio of graduate student professional development programs, which currently focus primarily on teaching and mentoring at the university,” said Steve Cramer, Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning.

Graduate education in STEM fields traditionally prepares students for research-intensive careers, and often lacks training on how to engage with the community as a fundamental part of their careers. The Public Service Graduate Fellows program connects these dots, placing public service and community engagement as significant aspects of scientific training.

“Overall, our goal is to create a novel public service program model that complements and enriches STEM graduate education at UW–Madison and beyond,” Courtier said.

Graduate students participating in the three-semester program will have the opportunity to explore a wide variety of career options in the public sector, while learning to effectively integrate public service into their scientific training both in seminars and through direct work with a community partner.

Students will be able to tailor their experience to match their interests through one of four tracks: community-engaged teaching, direct service and outreach, policy, or social enterprise.

“This is an exciting program that will bolster the success of our graduate students,” said Graduate School Dean William J. Karpus. “Programs like these contribute to the culture of innovation in graduate education that we pride ourselves on at UW–Madison.”

A cohort of six students will join the fellows program this semester, with a goal of 16 participating each semester by the end of the grant.

“Students will gain skills in many areas, from leadership to cultural competency to community relationship building,” TeSlaa said. “Graduate students from any STEM discipline will be able to incorporate issues of public concern into their career goals, whether they will pursue careers in academia, education, outreach, business, or policy.”

Not only will graduate students benefit, but so will the community. For example, students could partner with local libraries, schools, or other organizations to develop programming or products collaboratively.

“The Wisconsin Idea is at the heart of everything we do at WISCIENCE,” Courtier said. “Community members are full partners and will be key collaborators every step of the way.”

To learn more about the Public Service Graduate Fellows program, contact Anna Courtier, anna.courtier@wisc.edu.