Enhances instructional practices for undergrad math courses

  Wednesday, June 21, 2023
  Faculty Focus

By Amanda A. Taylor-Uchoa

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – JUNE 21, 2023 – The National Science Foundation (NSF) Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI Program) has awarded a $199,838 grant to the UTRGV Center for Teaching Excellence’s Students as Learners and Teachers program (SaLT).

The program encourages collaboration between trained students in teaching with instructors who teach undergraduate core mathematics coursework, which could assist in retention and student success efforts. This innovative teaching approach also could enhance high-quality, equitable instructional practices in undergraduate mathematics classes. 

Dr. Cristina Villalobos, professor of Mathematics and Statistical Sciences, is co-principal investigator on the project. (Courtesy photo)

The grant, set to start in July and run through June 2025, will help evaluate the impact of this collaboration between students majoring in mathematics, termed “student partners,” and mathematics faculty, to help inform future teaching and learning practices. 

Alyssa G. Cavazos, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and associate professor in the UTRGV Department of Writing and Language Studies, is principal investigator on the project, with Dr. Cristina Villalobos, professor of Mathematics and Statistical Sciences, as co-principal investigator.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with interested students and faculty members,” Cavazos said, “as that will help build a meaningful student-faculty partnership program and research the impact that student voices can have on designing equitable and engaging teaching and learning practices in math coursework.”

As PI on the project, Cavazos will coordinate and facilitate the professional development and mentorship of the students partnering with faculty members.

Additionally, she will lead professional development efforts for faculty members as they reflect on how inclusive teaching and learning strategies can be built into core mathematics coursework through this collaborative approach with student partners.  

The project outcomes are expected to transform frontiers of knowledge and provide insight for subsequent research studies that center student voices through equity-minded and equity-ethic teaching and learning practices,” Cavazos said.

“The outcomes are not only expected to advance knowledge in teaching and learning, but also to have a broad and positive impact on the academic success of underrepresented STEM students in mathematics.”

Villalobos, co-PI on the project, said she hopes faculty and students will learn more about each other’s teaching and learning needs on the road to becoming successful learners and teachers.

Teaching effectiveness is important, as this is one of the main venues to share knowledge with students who are our up-and-coming leaders,” she said. “Having faculty and students collaborate will allow both parties to better understand each other’s needs. Getting a student perspective on teaching and working closely with faculty will better inform the teaching community on effective teaching practices.”

Cavazos believes the project ultimately will have an influence in the local community.

“Grants like these are important to the university and surrounding communities because they provide opportunities for research, collaboration, reciprocal learning and growth,” Cavazos said. “The NSF HSI Program aims to enhance undergraduate STEM education and build capacity at HSIs, and we believe that this can happen in collaboration with our students.”


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.