Thirty education officials from across South Carolina gathered in Greenville on Nov. 8 to begin collaborating on the most in-depth study ever taken into how state’s education system prepares students for calculus.

The kickoff for the project, SC INCLUDES, brought together representatives from universities, technical colleges and the K-12 system. They are now beginning to gather data that could help identify why some students show up to college ready for calculus and why others do not.

The education officials who gathered to launch SC INCLUDES posed for a photo at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Engineering.

The education officials who gathered to launch SC INCLUDES posed for a photo at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Engineering.

Eliza Gallagher, an assistant professor of engineering and science education at Clemson University, led the nearly three-hour kickoff, which was at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.

The goal was to spread awareness of the project and to encourage participants to begin talking to each other, she said.

“We accomplished both of those,” Gallagher said. “I was really pleased and excited about the fact that people drove from all over the state for the meeting. They took a whole day to come to this. The enthusiasm that was present in the room was really invigorating to me.”

Stephen Mason, associate vice president for economic and workforce development at Denmark Technical College, said he felt better to learn that other institutions were facing the same challenges his was.

Among those attending the SC INCLUDES kickoff was Stephen Mason, associate vice president for economic and workforce development at Denmark Technical College.

Among those attending the SC INCLUDES kickoff was Stephen Mason, associate vice president for economic and workforce development at Denmark Technical College.

“This is right on time with how we can address this so that students can pass these tests that lead to other opportunities,” he said.

When the data is in hand, participants expect to create new ways of teaching that could be tried first in South Carolina and then replicated across country. The ultimate goal is to develop an engineering workforce that is representative of the ethnic and gender population as a whole.

While many roads lead to an engineering degree, all go through calculus. Previous studies have shown that students who arrive at college unprepared for calculus I are much less likely to persist to a degree, whether it’s because of the class itself or associated factors.

They could, for example, begin to lose confidence that an engineering degree is within their capabilities if they struggle with calculus.

Ikhalfani Solan, professor of mathematics at South Carolina State University, said the kickoff went well and that the group was ready to collect data. The big takeaway for him was the enormity of the problem.

“If we can get students to learn how to learn, then their future will be secured,” he said. “We hope that a project like this will get at the heart of students’ learning.”

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, said at the gathering, “This is a group of equals."

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, said at the gathering, “This is a group of equals.”

Rebecca Parrish, director of grants at Spartanburg Community College Foundation, said the data will give a big-picture view of the college’s students, including who is taking pre-calculus and calculus and who is not.

“Our student population is very diverse,” she said. “We’ll be looking at how we advise them currently, how we can make changes to that advisement process and who needs to be at the table. I think it’s all about looking at how we can encourage those students to keep pushing and go beyond.”

The next step is to continue the conversations electronically. Gallagher expects those conversations to center on data collection, setting up focus groups and cross-institutional collaborations.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences at Clemson, serves as the principal investigator on the study, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.

“This is a group of equals,” he said. “We have inherited the challenge to make sure students in our state are successful in calculus. Whatever we do, it cannot be a one-university or one-technical-college solution. We have to put our best minds together.”