Faculty Awards Faculty Success

UTSA faculty harness STAR grants to propel students into an AI-driven future

February 8, 2024
Academic Strategic Communications
UTSA faculty harness STAR grants to propel students into an AI-driven future

During Spring 2024, two UTSA faculty are using Strategies for Teaching, Assessment & Retention (STAR) program grants to help students explore the potential of emerging technologies and examine how tools like AI have already impacted the world.

"The STAR committee takes pride in the remarkable strides UTSA faculty are making to recognize and harness the power of artificial intelligence in educating our students," said David Han, an ADTS member, STAR program co-chair and associate professor in the management science and statistics department in the Alvarez College of Business.

The STAR grants program was created by the UTSA Academy for Distinguished Teaching Scholars (ADTS) and UTSA division of Academic Innovation. The grants allow faculty to develop and implement new teaching strategies, leverage new technology, and create more opportunities for students to develop marketable skills and strengthen bonds with their peers and instructors.

"The speed at which Generative AI is transforming whole industries demonstrates the need to give faculty the time, space and resources to enhance their curricula," said Melissa Vito, vice provost for academic innovation. "Helping students acquire knowledge and skills around artificial intelligence is critical for their professional success – now and in the future."

A glimpse into the award-winning projects 

CS-CURE: Adapting and Scaling the CURE Model for Computer Science

Amanda Fernandez, Ph.D., a UTSA College of Sciences assistant professor in the department of computer science, created a project that aligns UTSA’s commitment to helping students foster career-ready skills with disciplines across computer science. Fernandez tailored the course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) model for the computer science (CS) curriculum. Students delve into experiential learning, exploring research fundamentals while developing a mindset of extending knowledge beyond coursework.

CS-CURE fosters curiosity and lifelong learning, establishing a solid foundation for further research experiences and graduate study. Students are empowered to research a subfield of interest, such as AI, cybersecurity, education, software engineering, data science, and other areas of computer science.

The program will also help cultivate deeper engagement between faculty, graduate peer mentors and students. During the project, students form 'special interest groups,' reflective of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) professional society’s collaborative groups for technical communities. Once the project is complete, the course will be open to all computer science majors, creating a pipeline for these nearly 2,000 students into further research experiences and graduate study. 

Artificial Intelligence & Society: A New Undergraduate Course

The second Fall 2023 STAR grant was awarded to Abraham Gibson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UTSA College of Liberal and Fine Arts Department of History. Gibson will use grant to develop Artificial Intelligence & Society, an undergraduate, interdisciplinary course that transcends traditional boundaries, examining artificial intelligence from social, cultural, historical, ethical, and legal perspectives. The course bridges technology and the humanities and offers a holistic understanding of AI's impact on society. It will also include up-to-the-minute updates on all the latest developments in artificial intelligence, helping students contextualize the technologies that are transforming modern life.

The online, asynchronous and modular course is poised to attract students from diverse majors, fostering a comprehensive understanding of AI's implications. For example, students interested in data science and computer engineering will receive humanistic training that helps them envision and create a better future. Meanwhile, students interested in civic responsibility and creative arts learn to use world-changing digital tools.

Recognizing Excellence and Innovation

The STAR program has created opportunities for UTSA faculty to enhance curricula and explore student engagement strategies. Since the beginning of the program in Spring 2022, eight faculty have been awarded STAR grants.

Discover how three UTSA faculty members are transforming their academic approach and enhancing curricula to engage students and create innovative new teaching strategies.

These projects epitomize UTSA's unwavering commitment to fostering innovation and ensuring our students are equipped with cutting-edge skills for a future shaped by transformative technologies," said Aaron Cassill, an ADTS member, STAR program co-chair and biology professor in the Honors College.

ADTS, established in 2012, honors and rewards faculty who exemplify excellence in teaching and contribute to creating a culture of exceptional teaching and learning practices. These distinguished faculty members serve as mentors, leading initiatives that shape the future of education at UTSA. Academic Innovation plays a pivotal role in uniting teaching, technology, and digital learning experts. Together, they champion innovative practices that enhance students' academic experiences, ensuring that UTSA remains at the forefront of educational excellence.

Starting this year, the call for proposals for the STAR grants program will open once a year in Spring semester and at least four teaching grants, each up to $5,000, will be awarded to faculty (individual or faculty team) who are developing or implementing innovative, creative, and effective approaches to undergraduate education at UTSA.

Faculty are invited to apply for a 2024-2025 grant via the UTSA faculty professional development website by March 31, 2024.