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UH Mānoa named part of Vertically Integrated Projects program consortium

Consortium awarded $5 million grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust

Contact: Aaron Ohta, (808) 956-8196 Associate Professor, Electrical Engineering, College of Engineering

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa has been named a member of the Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) Program Consortium. The consortium, a group of institutions led by Georgia Tech, has been awarded a $5 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to drive systemic reform of STEM education.

The VIP Program unites large teams of undergraduates with graduate students and faculty to work together on long-term research projects. Under the leadership of Georgia Tech and the co-leadership of the University of Michigan, the Helmsley award will expand the VIP Consortium to include UH Mānoa.

At UH Mānoa, the VIP Program consists of research teams that are vertically integrated and include a faculty mentor, graduate student researchers, and undergraduates from sophomores to seniors. The teams are large (10 to 20 undergraduates each semester), the projects are long-term, and are based on an externally funded research topic. Undergraduates in VIP teams earn academic credit for their participation.

“We are excited that the UH Mānoa College of Engineering is involved in this effort. We propose to transform the ‘typical’ undergraduate STEM experience into one that emphasizes learning through hands-on projects, giving our graduates significant advantages when entering the workforce,” said UH Mānoa VIP Program Director Aaron Ohta.

The UH Mānoa VIP Program will begin with three projects: (1) Microrobotics, advised by Associate Professor Aaron Ohta; (2) Space and Aerial Robotics, advised by Professor Wayne Shiroma, and (3) Rapid Prototyping, advised by Associate Professor David Garmire. The UH Mānoa program will later expand to include projects in Astronomical Instruments (advisor: Assistant Professor A. Zachary Trimble), Marine Robotics (advisor: Associate Professor Brian Bingham), and Sustainability and Fixed-Wing Drones (advisor: Professor Mehrdad Ghasemi Nejhad). Additional project topics are under consideration.

“The Helmsley Charitable Trust is thrilled to support the VIP Consortium’s transformative approach to active learning in engineering,” said Ryan Kelsey, program officer at the Trust. “It is very compelling to see such a range of engineering schools across the country that are ready to adopt large-scale, effective practices that we expect will retain more students, particularly more women and students of color.”

The Helmsley Charitable Trust’s education program aims to increase American competitiveness and innovation. At the post-secondary level, it focuses on increasing the number and diversity of college graduates in STEM fields by improving persistence to graduation.

VIP offers an ideal setting for rethinking STEM education because it attracts students of various ages, interests, and experiences together for ongoing work. VIP projects can last a decade or more, and undergraduates may spend up to three years with their project teams.

“For many students, this is the first chance they’ve had to do something real while they’re undergraduates,” said Edward Coyle, Arbutus Chair for the Integration of Research and Education at Tech. Coyle is also the VIP Program’s founder and director.

Thanks to VIP, some students may feel more comfortable sticking with STEM fields and pursuing them after college. Organizers wrote in their Helmsley grant proposal that the program “can create the sense of belonging and pride of accomplishment that motivates students to persist through other elements of the STEM curriculum.”

The VIP Program Consortium consists of 15 public and private institutions, including two universities abroad: National Ilan University in Taiwan and the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. The 13 participating U.S. universities include:

  • Georgia Tech
  • University of Michigan
  • Purdue University
  • Texas A&M
  • Rice University
  • University of Washington
  • Howard University
  • Morehouse College
  • Florida International University
  • Boise State University
  • Colorado State University
  • University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
  • Virginia Commonwealth University

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