The high level of success of the RCSE is in great extent due to its development as a consortium based on a collaborative network among the major institutions of the educational system, thus providing a mechanism for the pooling of resources and promoting the articulation of efforts. Because of the multi-institutional nature of its partnerships, and the islandwide scope and complexity of its goals and programs, which range from grades K–12 to the graduate/research level, the RCSE was established as an administrative unit of the UPR's central administration and is directly under the supervision of the president of the university. As such, the RCSE is not identified with any particular academic programs, levels or units, which has facilitated the collaboration of all institutions and led to a synergistic effect on the improvement of STEM education throughout the island.
The RCSE has served the role of a broker among the consortium institutions, bringing them together to identify the major problems and needs in STEM education in Puerto Ricoand to jointly develop innovations in programs and services to address these needs. Key academic and administrative officials from all member institutions participate fully in the planning and implementation of the RCSE programs. The main partners from different sectors that have joined the RCSE consortium over the years include, among others: University of Puerto Rico System; Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico; the Inter American University System; Ana G. Méndez University System; Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico; Sacred Heart University; Universidad Central del Caribe Medical School; Puerto Rico Department of Education; Puerto Rico College Board; Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce; private industries such as Pfizer, Texas Instrument, Bristol Myers, AMGEN, Medtronic MedRel, Hewlett-Packard, Schein, Sensormatic, Simmetricon, Allergan, Heyer Schulte; professional organizations such as P.R. Association of Science Teachers, P.R. Association of Mathematics Teachers, and the American Chemical Society.
The Resource Center for Science and Engineering envisioned the need to create an agile and flexible structure that had sufficient freedom from the confines of traditional institutional cultures to innovate, and the capacity to establish effective working relationships among diverse organizations to forge alliances that pool the best resources across institutional boundaries to achieve their main common goals: the island wide reform of the STEM educational system and the development of a research infrastructure. Because of their nature, these goals lie outside those of the individual institutions.
To undertake this challenge, the RCSE was designed as a virtual organization that would serve as a catalytic agent for innovation. The salient characteristic of the RCSE as a virtual organization is that it is delocalized in space and time: the human resources needed to achieve its goals are distributed among the diverse institutional settings, while the strategic planning, coordination of efforts and communication links across institutional boundaries allow for the orchestration of a coherent strategy.
The major goal of the RCSE’s educational reform strategy is to transform the teaching and learning process in STEM disciplines for ALL students in Puerto Ricobased on a student-centered educational paradigm. To achieve this transformation effectively, it is necessary to reform the entire educational system from K-16, treating the different levels – pre-college, college, and graduate – as components of a single educational system, emphasizing the need to promote effective and fruitful interactions among levels to ensure a strong coupling between them, thus allowing the emergence of a coherent and seamless continuum. Instead of implementing piecemeal efforts to change particular elements of the educational process, a global strategy consisting of several interconnected systemic initiatives has been developed through programs that address particular levels in the educational pipeline.
In 1980, the RCSE started with a small operation of under $1.5M financed through combined funds from the National Science Foundation and the UPR to initiate the development of a systemic science and mathematics educational reform and to build the foundation for the research infrastructure. Since that time, the RCSE has grown steadily, diversifying its programs, services, and funding sources in a coherent and strategic process. In the year 2000-01, the RCSE had a $28M budget with a portfolio of 55 projects from 22 different funding agencies (federal, state and private) interwoven into a unified global strategy. Sixty four percent of the funds were obtained through competitive grantsmanship.
Through the development of an entrepreneurial approach to obtaining resources, the RCSE has succeeded in seizing opportunities that are not available through the institutional budgets, which allows the RCSE to accomplish its mission in spite of limited local resources. Only $1.7M is allocated to support the administrative structure of the RCSE, evidencing the cost-effectiveness of its operation. By sharing a single infrastructure for the direction, management and administration of these multiple projects, with only 133 full time employees, the RCSE has streamlined and optimized the utilization of human and material resources to expedite the support required to meet the diverse requirements of the funded projects for successful implementation.
To successfully develop or adopt new ideas, processes, and technologies to sustain its goal of transforming the entire educational system, the Resource Center for Science and Engineering proceeds through a series of phases which allows innovations to progress from inception to full scale dissemination and institutionalization into the system. These phases established by the RCSE take into account the following principles of systemic reform: