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Grant expands STEM education program at Georgia Tech, other universities

February 10, 2015

Georgia Tech's Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) Program has been awarded a $5 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to drive systemic reform of STEM education, in part by expanding the program to a number of universities, including the University of Washington.

The 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 program to a consortium of other schools, including the UW, giving the program foothold in a variety of institutions across the U.S., especially those that primarily serve underrepresented, minority or nontraditional students.

Brian FabienEve Riskin
College of Engineering associate deans Brian Fabien and Eve Riskin.

"We are very excited to establish this program here at the UW," said Eve Riskin, College of Engineering's associate dean of diversity and access. "The first item of our college's new strategic plan is to prepare our students to be leaders. VIP will offer UW students outstanding multidisciplinary, project-based learning experiences that will help develop them as future leaders of society."

Riskin and Brian Fabien, College of Engineering's associate dean of academic affairs, are the joint principal investigators for this grant at the UW.

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

The program consortium consists of 15 public and private institutions. In addition to the UW, the other 12 participating U.S. universities are Georgia Tech, University of Michigan, Purdue University, Texas A&M, Rice University, Howard University, Morehouse College, Florida International University, Boise State University, Colorado State University, University of Hawaii-Manoa and Virginia Commonwealth University. The two international participants are National Ilan University in Taiwan and the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.

"Given the number of former VIP students that have let me know that VIP has been a deciding factor in finding a career job position," said Randal Abler, the program's associate director, "I'm excited to see what can be accomplished by extending the program beyond Georgia Tech."

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.

"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."


For information about the program at the UW, contact Riskin at or Fabien at