The Foundation for STEM Success (FS2) program is a model for STEM student success that uses a student-centered approach to academic preparation and learning, and creates an integrated institutional network of supports that increases students’ self-efficacy, sense of belonging to their major, and belief in the importance of their contributions to society. These are key factors that affect retention in STEM fields. The FS2 project elements have been piloted at large public institutions, and are being implemented within a smaller Liberal Arts college setting.
The FS2 program is a five year project that focuses on engineering and computer science majors and was designed to improve retention and graduation by implementing strategies that contribute to: academic preparation and self-efficacy, particularly in first year mathematics courses; a sense of belonging to a major and social integration within an academic community, and; a belief that the targeted majors contribute to society. To accomplish these goals the FS2 program is divided into four initiatives to increase first- and second-year retention in engineering and computer science majors: (1) a summer intensive program; (2) a revised gateway course for engineering and CS majors, (3) a peer and faculty mentor/tutoring program, and (4) affinity housing. These four initiatives support students’ adjustment to the challenges and rigors of a high quality academic program.
The FS2 program is currently in the fourth and final academic year and has engaged 470 first year engineering and computer science students. The paper describes the main challenges implementing these retention initiatives in a small college setting and outlines approaches to overcome these challenges. Results from the first three cohorts indicate that the average one year retention rate is 75%, which is an increase from our baseline of 67% and the average two year retention rate is 64%, which is an increase from our baseline of 57%.
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