LEVERS: Leveraging Engagement and Vision to Encourage Retention in STEM

Michigan State University has been awarded $1.5 million from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to fund LEVERS, a project to expand efforts for students in science to learn effectively and graduate successfully, especially those who belong to groups underrepresented in science.  The five-year award is being used by MSU to improve introductory courses that serve as gateways to continued studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

Specific projects include the reform and revision of chemistry and physics laboratory courses, the creation of digital evolution education software modules in biology, and the development of a new modeling-based calculus curriculum.

MSU’s approach will transform introductory STEM courses to emphasize core scientific and mathematical ideas and practices that are common across different disciplines. This emphasis will improve student learning, raise student engagement and increase the number of students graduating with STEM degrees. These efforts also will change the institutional culture of MSU to focus even more on STEM student learning and success. 

The initiative involves personnel from across MSU, including faculty from the College of Natural Science, College of Engineering, College of Education and Lyman Briggs College. Collaborators also include faculty associated with the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, the CREATE for STEM Institute and the Center for Engineering Education Research.

Project Advisory Board

  • Sekhar Chivukula (PI), CNS
  • Joe Krajcik (co-PI), CREATE for STEM Institute
  • Rob Pennock (co-PI), BEACON
  • Rob LaDuca (co-PI), LBC
  • Mark Urban-Lurain (co-PI), CEER
  • Melanie Cooper, CNS, Chemistry
  • Diane Ebert-May, CNS, Biology
  • Stuart Tessmer, CNS, Physics
  • Cori Fata-Hartley, CNS
  • Renee Bayer, CREATE for STEM Institute


  • Gateway Collaborative: A group of interdisciplinary faculty will collaborate to improve the STEM gateway experience.  Collaborative will host yearly Gateway summits to facilitate institutional transformation of the gateway curriculum.
    • Project Leader: Project Advisory Board
  • New Chemistry Laboratory Curriculum: Chemistry faculty will implement and assess the 'Cooperative Chemistry Laboratories' as part of the gateway curriculum.
    • Project Leader: Lynmarie Posey, CNS, Chemistry
  • New Physics Laboratory Curriculum: Faculty will implement the SEI model for course transformation to develop a new gateway physics laboratory curriculum.
    • Project Leader, Danny Caballero, CNS, Physics
  • New Avida-ED Discovery Based Laboratory Modules: Faculty will develop, implement, and assess new Avida-ED modules that engage students in science practices focused on ecological, evolutionary, and genetics concepts as part of the gateway reform.
    • Project Leader: Jim Smith, LBC, Biology
  • New Modeling-Based Calculus Curriculum: Faculty will develop, implement, and assess a calculus curriculum in which students build analyze and interpret mathematical models developed using real data for student laboratories.
    • Project Leader: AK Zeleke, LBC, Math