Redesigning STEM Curriculum: Conference Recap with Matt Cockerell of the Academic Commons

Matt Cockerell, Curriculum and Instructional Design Specialist, in the Academic Commons, recently attended the AACU Transforming STEM Higher Education Conference. Matt represented Jefferson, presenting a poster on a recent project with the College of Pharmacy to redesign its curriculum. We caught up with Matt to learn about the conference and discuss his poster, which highlights ways to improve STEM education to achieve student outcomes.

Earlier this month, you attended the AACU Transforming STEM Higher Education Conference. Tell us a bit about the conference.
The conference was held outside Washington DC (Arlington, VA) from November 3rd – 5th. The title of the AAC&U conference was Transforming STEM Higher Education: Back to Broken? Accelerating Undergraduate Education Reform. I attended the conference, but Dr. Elena Umland [poster co-author and project partner] was unable to attend.

The conference’s goal was to examine the entire range of contemporary challenges to—and opportunities for—STEM higher education reform. Keynote speakers included Gilda Barabino (President of the Olin College of Engineering), Christina Maslach (Professor Emerita of Psychology at UC Berkley), and Todd Zakrajsek (Associate Research Professor & Associate Director of Fellowship Programs, Department of Family Medicine, UNC Chapel Hill).

Why did you wish to attend the conference, and what role did you play there, representing the Academic Commons and Thomas Jefferson University?  
There were several motivating factors for attending the conference. One goal was raising awareness of Thomas Jefferson University, the Academic Commons, and the Jefferson College of Pharmacy. I also wanted to expand my professional network in STEM fields to match Jefferson’s strength in these areas. The primary purpose of attending was to highlight the curriculum redesign process within the Jefferson College of Pharmacy. Our poster presentation was an example of a project-level intervention to improve STEM education through strategies focusing on achieving STEM student outcomes. Conference organizers were seeking proposals offering new and innovative insights into STEM reform strategies, and we felt that our curriculum redesign process was a great example.

In addition to supporting educators with curriculum design, Matt is a great photographer! Here are a few photos he took while in Washington, DC.

Let’s discuss your poster, titled “Making the Rounds: An Iterative Approach to Engaging Faculty and Stakeholders in the Development of an Integrated Curriculum in the Health Professions.” How did you and co-author Dr. Elena Umland work together on this project?
The Jefferson College of Pharmacy began the curriculum revision process in the Fall of 2021, and I joined the effort in the Spring of 2022. The new curriculum will be administered beginning with the class entering in Fall 2024. Revisions focus on creating an integrated curriculum combining pharmacy science and clinical practice. The goal is to provide students with more active learning opportunities and create holistic thinkers equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary for professional readiness.

The poster represents our efforts up to the time of submission. The process began with faculty development focused on the changing learner, followed by virtual presentations by leadership at two peer colleges that administer integrated curricula. The steering committee and college administration identified vital external stakeholders, both locally and nationally, representing alums, practitioners, and professional organizations. These stakeholders included groups not typically represented in revisions, such as pedagogical experts, faculty and administrators from other institutions, and former students. We argue that this additional input aided in fostering a more inclusive process. We used surveys, listening sessions, and faculty retreats to garner feedback which led to the development of a revised philosophy, goal, and curricular outcomes for the program.

At Dr. Elena Umland’s invitation, I joined weekly meetings with the curriculum revision committee, which consists of 3 additional Jefferson College of Pharmacy faculty members. I have also been fortunate enough to attend numerous full-faculty retreats. 

If educators want to learn more about how the Academic Commons can support their curriculum development and program alignment goals, how should they contact you? 
The best way to reach me is via email at Beginning in Spring 2023, I will have a presence on the 4th floor of Scott Memorial Library, so look for me there soon!