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Research Spotlight: Queensborough Community College Team Receive NSF TUES Award

March 7, 2012

In August 2011 Queensborough Community College professors, Roland Scal (Geology), Cheryl Bluestone (Psychology), and Hugh Rance (Geology) were awarded a National Science Foundation Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (TUES) grant. The title of their multi-year pedagogical research project is Development of an Active Learning Gemology Studio Course: Introducing Nonscience Majors to the STEM Curriculum.

Dr. Roland Scal, lead PI on the NSF TUES project, in his lab at QCC

The TUES project creates a studio-learning environment for community college students studying gemology.  It integrates active learning techniques and guided laboratory explorations to examine how geoscientists search for and develop natural resources, and how these resources are then processed and brought to market. New York City’s gem industry and museum collections will also be studied to educate students about the significance of geoscience to the economy and society.

Dr. Scal first taught his course in gems and semiprecious stones in 2005. Since then, the course has been offered every semester and is continually being developed and restructured to enable students to gain practical knowledge of gemology and the gem trade.  According to a 2011 study conducted by the Pratt Center for Community Development, diamonds are New York State’s number one export product and jewelry overall ranks number three. The number of direct and indirect employees working in the diamond and jewelry business in New York City exceeds 32,000. 1

Diverse and rigorous evaluative methods are being employed to fulfill the pedagogical research requirements of the grant. Formative evaluation tools are being used to gauge course effectiveness based on student input. Summative evaluations of all the teaching tools and activities are providing an understanding of the effectiveness of the “enticement of gemology.” Through these evaluations, the PIs are increasing our understanding of how to attract and retain early-career, traditionally underrepresented, non-science majors into a broad range of STEM fields central to the earth sciences.

samples found in Dr. Scal's office

Dr. Scal, in collaboration with two QCC chemistry professors, Drs. David Sarno and Moni Chauhan, also received two NSF Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI) grants in 2007 and 2008. The first MRI grant allowed the college to acquire a tabletop scanning electron microscope for undergraduate research in materials chemistry and geological science.  In 2008, they were awarded another grant to purchase an X-ray microanalysis unit to attach to the scanning electron microscope (SEM). The SEM has made it possible for gemological and geological analysis to be conducted in-house at Queensborough.  Scal is working with students to investigate the growth of Chinese freshwater cultured pearls by using hard sample preparation techniques to section and examine the internal growth of the pearls.  Insight into pearl composition and structure will lead to a better understanding of how growth time, environmental changes, and other factors influence the morphology and quality of pearls.

1  Pratt Center for Community Development, The Perfect Setting: Economic Impact of the Diamond and Jewelry Industry in New York City, 2011. See: