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Pi-Sui Hsu begins Senior Faculty Fellow work in promoting STEM fields to youth

October 14, 2020
Pi-Sui Hsu
Pi-Sui Hsu

Pi-Sui Hsu wants to see more children enter the fields of science and engineering.

Hsu, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, has launched numerous initiatives over her career to advance that goal.

These have included summer camps for children, online interactions between eighth-graders in Downers Grove and Taiwan to participate in scientific argumentation and an ongoing after-school program at Rockford Environmental Science Academy to help sixth-graders explore Next Generation Science Standards and makerspaces.

And now, as the College of Education’s newest Senior Faculty Fellow, Hsu expects she can better further her self-professed “little bit ambitious” agenda inside Graham and Gabel halls and at her partner sites.

“It’s very important to cultivate students’ interests and aspirations in science at a very young age, and I think middle school is about the right age,” says Hsu, who joined NIU in 2005.

“Making an impact on students is one way, but making impacts on our future teachers, and teachers in the classroom right now, is also important,” she adds, “so, hopefully, I would like to teach how to enact this practice in a more interesting way in their classrooms, and get more students interested in science. And, hopefully, they will choose STEM majors when they go to college or when they choose their careers.”

Launched in 2018, the Senior Faculty Fellow program recognizes and rewards high-performing, tenured faculty and promotes research and/or scholarly activity in the college.

Pi-Sui Hsu demonstrates a 3D printer.
Pi-Sui Hsu demonstrates a 3D printer.

Recipients of the title receive either $3,500 to help finance their project or release from one course; the college will grant one Senior Faculty Fellowship per year. Melanie Koss was the first, followed by Jim Ressler last year.

For Hsu, the honor comes after a conscious effort to build her confidence to write the letter.

“I was interested in applying for this program two years ago,” she says, “but I waited and, finally, I made up my mind this year to apply for it. I see the Senior Faculty Fellow program as a good way to share and highlight my research. I also see it as a great opportunity to represent the college by participating in various events, engaging graduate and undergraduate students and interacting with fellow faculty members, policymakers and stakeholders.”

Hsu plans to focus her term on educational technology, STEM and partnership to “produce young adults who can think critically and argue effectively about important issues in their world.”

She has implemented her curriculum of scientific argumentation since 2012, and has collaborated with Reva Freedman, associate professor in the NIU Department of Computer Science to create an intelligent tutoring program to support students in their development of scientific argumentation.

“With the funding from the Senior Faculty Fellowship, I will be able to actually pilot this program in classrooms,” Hsu says, “and, hopefully, with the pilot data, I will use that to help me prepare to write a large-scale grant for the STEM area to implement scientific argumentation in many classrooms.”

Meanwhile, she wants to expand the power of the after-school program she designed with Eric Monsu Lee, a visiting assistant professor in the NIU Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Hsu works with Reva Freedman (right) and Shobhit Srivastava.
Pi-Sui Hsu collaborates in 2018 with Reva Freedman (right) and NIU Computational Software major Shobhit Srivastava on an intelligent tutoring program.

The Rockford Public Schools recently awarded $25,500 to fund Hsu’s “Scientific Argumentation in Transportable Invention Space (STATIS) 3.0,” and “I will be able to release my teaching time and make more trips to the school to implement the curriculum and refine my ideas.”

Even though participation of the sixth-graders is limited this year for COVID-19, Hsu still can meet with a reduced number of Rockford students to use the school’s 3-D printers and laser engravers.

“It requires face-to-face interaction,” she says. “It’s really challenging to do that remotely.”

Knowledge from this work will continue to enrich her courses at NIU: “I believe I will be able to bring these experiences into my teaching.”

“When I teach undergraduate technology integration courses, I will be able to show the real examples from the classroom and have a discussion with the students about the instructional strategies they can use to integrate various, emerging technologies into their classrooms,” Hsu says.

“When I teach graduate-level courses, particularly doctoral-level classes,” she adds, “I will be able to share the challenges and the successes, based on my experiences, which will help them gain more insight into the research process and maybe help them with their dissertation studies.”

Pi-Sui Hsu in her home office.
Pi-Sui Hsu in her home office.

For Hsu, the interest in science began as a child in Taiwan.

At Penn State University, where she completed her Ph.D., she found inspiration to blend her expertise in instructional technology with science education in a research-based exploration of that intersection.

“My dissertation was about that process of how to integrate different technology into science-teaching and the learning process,” Hsu says of the doctoral studies that founded her academic interests and will fuel her time as Senior Faculty Fellow. “I like to do creative work. I like to brainstorm ideas, and to further develop them and implement them. I am really grateful, and I feel really lucky, to get this recognition.”