Building an Infrastructure to Enhance and Sustain the Success of STEM Majors Who are Commuting Students
A wide gap in the rates of degree completion currently exists between highly selective colleges and universities and those that are nonselective. Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) is an urban, nonselective institution with a high percentage of returning-adult, commuter, under-prepared, first-generation, and low-income students.
Commuter students attend school full-time or part-time, they live off campus, and their daily obligations are divided among home, work, and school. A project funded at IPFW by the National Science Foundation (NSF) is investigating what institutions like IPFW can do to help students decrease the time it takes them to complete their undergraduate degrees in engineering, engineering technology, and computer science. Because many of the IPFW students are commuters with employment outside of school, it takes them a long time to complete their bachelor’s degrees. This program is designed specifically to accelerate the degree completion of the participating students and to lead to a stronger workforce in the region served by IPFW.
In this program, NSF S-STEM scholars receive scholarships during their junior and senior years. They are selected based on demonstrated financial need and evidence of high-ability or high-potential shown in the first two years of work in their STEM majors. A team consisting of teaching faculty, mentors, academic advisors, and peer mentors has been created to support the NSF S-STEM scholars. These teams are organized and do their work using the well-established concepts of faculty and student learning communities and follow the recommendations from the well-known study by the National Research Council (NRC): How People Learn, which identifies four interrelated perspectives of effective learning environments: Learner-centered environments, Knowledge-centered environments, Assessment-centered environments, and Community-centered environments. Together, these environments work to create and sustain the mutual support and encouragement of students and the active involvement of all faculty, staff, administrators, fellow students, and employers of the graduates of STEM academic programs.
The research component of this project is designed to advance our understanding of the factors, practices, and experiences (curricular and co-curricular) that affect the academic success, retention, and degree completion of commuter students. Areas of focus include (a) learning how commuters prioritize the three aspects of their lives (home, work, and school); (b) understanding the impacts and use of the financial assistance that these commuter students receive; and (c) investigating best practices and interventions that lead to academic success for commuter students.
The NSF grant was awarded in August of 2016 and, hence, the project just completed its first year of sponsored activities. The proposed paper will present the sponsored activities that were undertaken, the results achieved, the challenges encountered so far and what is being done to meet them. The presentation will also outline the activities that are planned for year two.
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