Projects & Activities

STEM education research goes beyond developing and providing outreach activities or articles for public consumption, and investigates the intricate cognitive and social mechanisms that support how and why people learn. Research questions in many cases require an inter-disciplinary or trans-disciplinary approach. Dr. Cwikla works to assemble university, state, and regional research and development teams to address emerging STEM issues. 

Cwikla’s experience establishing relationships with schools, community organizations, and non-profit groups can support the construction or scaling of larger programs - bridging the university and its community.  Gathering expertise and support across the region will provide a stronger foundation for STEM learning experiences and allow for systematic investigations about what works for all learners – birth to expert.

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Kellogg Foundation helps USM Provide Tablets, Speakaboos App for Elementary Students

O’Rourke Elementary School Pre-K teacher Allison Peavy uses words like “exciting,” “unbelievable” and “phenomenal” to describe the unexpected receipt of Samsung tablets fitted with the multi-faceted Speakaboos app for her students.

The tablets were provided by The University of Southern Mississippi through a $900,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation. More than 700 students at four elementary schools in the Mobile (Ala.) County Public School System have received the tablets, which helps them learn concepts in language, mathematics, and science.

“We are so thrilled to have tablets in the hands of all 18 students. It’s really phenomenal,” said Peavy. “Children are so involved in technology now. Once we showed them how to get into it, they were able to manipulate it right away; choose what they wanted to do and where they wanted to go. One of our goals is to incorporate the Speakaboos app into our classroom lesson plans as the year progresses.”

iD8: H4D for JROTC: Cybersecurity Conference for Junior ROTC Students

Junior ROTC cadets from the Jackson Public Schools and the Mobile County Public Schools will convene on The University of Southern Mississippi’s Hattiesburg campus Sept. 29-30 for a unique conference focused on cybersecurity and coding.

The event is part of the iD8 (Ideate. Innovate. Iterate) program at USM. Dr. Julie Cwikla, director of Creativity & Innovation in STEM, serves as coordinator of the iD8 programs and events at USM.

This marks the second time that students from these area school systems will meet to explore Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) content and challenges. The theme for this year’s conference is “Hacking for Defense.”  Read more about the event from Southern Miss News.


iD8: Hattiesburg Hackathon April 7-8, 2017

USM's inaugural Hackathon was held at USM April 7-8 and was a terrific success. Read about is here. The Hackathon competition was open to teams of four African-American high school girls. The goal is for teams to build a mobile app prototype over two days.


No coding experience was necessary, all meals provided. Marand J of WJMI On-Air Personality will be emceeing, guest speakers included USM graduate Sheena Allen (Click to see her featured in Essence),  Dr. Mary Moore, Dr. SherRonda Gibbs, Ms. Deidra Minor, Ms. Yetunde Adewunmi, Mr. Brian Street, and USM President Rodney D. Bennett.

Participants earned USM swag, got a copy of Hidden Figures, and regional judges selected a winning app design team.  They brought a trophy home to Petal High School. 


Kellogg Foundation Grant Will Help Mobile County Children Learn Math in New Ways

A $900,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation has been awarded to the University of Southern Mississippi’s Dr. Julie Cwikla, Director of Creativity & Innovation in STEM.  Funds will be used to help school children along the Gulf Coast learn math in new and exciting ways. 

As part of a three year project, Cwikla will work with Speakaboos, the New York City- based media company behind the award-winning literacy app for children ages 2 to 6. Together, Cwikla and Speakaboos will develop interactive digital math stories that motivate children to read and expose them early on to important math concepts. By partnering with the Mobile County Public School System, the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center, and the Mobile Public Library, these stories and others in Speakaboos’ library will be made available to thousands of children in Mobile, Alabama.


TEDx Jackson

Dr. Cwikla spoke at the TEDx Women conference in Jackson, Mississippi.

Her TED talk is titled Math Stories Make a Difference.

Is your math story hurting your child? 

The way parents talk to children about math determines a child's long term success. Ongoing math learning opens doors while students are deciding what to be when they grow up. More math means more career options. And who doesn't want their kid to be whatever they want to be? 



Mississippi's first JROTC STEM Invitational was hosted at Southern Miss Nov 2016. High School JROTC students from Jackson, Mississippi and Mobile, Alabama will meet at USM’s Hattiesburg campus for a 2-day STEM immersion. Students engaged in hands-on STEM challenges, and learned with leaders in USM’s ROTC program, the Dean and Chairs from the College of Science and Technology, and current students majoring in STEM degree fields. They also visited the African-American Military Museum, Camp Shelby, enjoyed a USM football game, and were recognized on Military Appreciation Day.  


National Association of Math Circles - NYC - October 2016

Dr. Cwikla served as plenary speaker for the Circle on the Road in New York City held at New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.  Cwikla, a graduate of CIMS was honored to speak about mathematics cognition, informal learning spaces, and the challenges of evaluation.


MAKING MAKERS - STEM for GIRLS in Mobile, Alabama

The University of Southern Mississippi, the University of South Alabama, the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center, and the Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS) are collaborating to build the Making Makers program for at-risk girls.  Three major goals will be accomplished. (1) Develop afterschool and summer programming to expose and teach disadvantaged African-American middle school girls (N=60) about coding, 3D printing, and solving open problems (144 contact hours).  (2) Investigate the Making Makers community of learning with a focus on collaboration, non-cognitive skills, creativity, technology content, possible selves, motivation, and leadership through a design-based program of research.  And (3) Increase the STEM education research capacity at the Mobile Gulf Coast Exploreum through periodic university sponsored workshops, mentoring, and development programming. 


We are building on the programmatic success the Exploreum demonstrated with 3D printer camps and developing an exploratory rich environment for at-risk girls in our community.  


NRT: INTERFACE - National Science Foundation

The vision of “NRT: Training Next-Generation Scientists with Experimental, Theoretical, and Computational Competencies for Complex Interfaces” (INTERFACE) at the University of Southern Mississippi is to train the next generation of materials researchers through interdisciplinary data-driven research, education, and professional development designed to equip graduates with the theoretical, computational, and experimental skills needed to address the grand challenges of the 21st century.


Can Kindergartners do Fractions? - National Science Foundation

Our goal is to investigate the way young children’s thinking in the mathematics domain is related to the emergence of other cognitive building blocks.  Only a handful of studies have examined how children between the ages of four and six years solve fraction problems, particularly without formal instruction (Hunting & Davis, 1991). These studies have not followed the development of children’s thinking from pre-school into the school years, and have not related mathematical thinking to individual differences such as cognitive capacities and personality traits. This work is ongoing.


Gulf Coast ADVANCE - National Science Foundation

An academic partnership across four instituions our mission is three-fold. (1) Highlight, promote, and encourage the scientific research and accomplishments of our 180 STEM women faculty members across four institutions. (2) Curb the isolation women experience in their work by gathering a critical mass of STEM women in the region to serve as a professional support and collaborative network. And (3) Transform the cultural and institutional landscapes so that work-life balance issues for women and families are explicitly addressed in policy and practice, shaping a healthier, more productive environment for all scientists. 


Pioneering Mars: Turning the Red Planet Green - NASA

Students at high schools in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and Mobile, Alabama will have the unprecedented opportunity to engage in hands-on research with a team of university scientists working on NASA's Mission to Mars project. Students will use specially-designed incubators at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi to determine whether Antarctic algae could grow in a Martian environment. NASA astronauts will conduct parallel experiments simultaneously on the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA funded Dr. Scott Milroy and Dr. Julie Cwikla of the University of Southern Mississippi to develop a curriculum that would engage high school students to answer these questions.


Project WetKids - National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation has recognized Project WetKids as a highlight research program and it's used in communicating NSF’s successes to the United States Congress and other national stakeholders.

This out-of-school science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) program provides teachers, students, and families on the Gulf Coast wetland, estuary, watershed, and career exposure experiences with regional scientists, engineers, and naturalists.   The extensive partnership includes: the Pascagoula River Audubon Center, NOAA Fisheries Laboratory, Chevron Pascagoula Refinery, Northern Gulf Institute, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, John C. Stennis Space Center, Huntington Ingalls Industries, and the Live Oak Alliance. The integration of industry, non-profit research organizations, informal science centers, and academia has provided diverse resources and opportunities in Alabama and Mississippi’s coastal counties.