NSF Grant to Improve Remote STEM Education

Jul 16, 2021

The grant of more than $500,000 will allow remote access to lab equipment at California University and two other schools.

vamsi borra

Dr. Vamsi Borra

California University of Pennsylvania will share in a grant worth more than a half-million dollars from the National Science Foundation to improve online STEM education.

The three-year, $523,766 award to Cal U, Community College of Allegheny County and Robert Morris University will enable students at each school to connect to lab equipment via the internet, expanding access to hands-on technical learning.

Students studying science, technology, engineering and math will be able to work remotely to operate machines such as data collection units, programmable logic controllers, electrical workbenches, mechatronic devices and robots.

Through these technologies, colleges and universities can share resources and train students on a wider variety of equipment.

In the future, industry leaders could use the technology for workforce development.

Cal U, which has a special mission in science and technology, offers degrees in STEM field such as mechatronics engineering technology, electrical engineering technology and computer engineering technology.

“They are all hands-on programs,” said Dr. Vamsi Borra, a co-principal investigator and an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, Information Systems and Engineering Technology at Cal U.

“If you want to teach a student how to build a circuit, you can show them a computer simulation, but at some point, you have to know how to build it, and you can’t base that on a simulation,” Borra said.

“You have to connect it, put it on a board, solder it and see if it works.”

He expects students will begin using the equipment remotely beginning in Fall 2022.

"The keys are being able to serve a greater range of students and to have a greater availability of resources," said Joe Schickel, chair of Cal U's Department of Computer Science, Information Systems and Engineering Technology.

"Our three engineering technology programs qualify our students for good jobs. The hands-on experience is really critical."