The STEM Excellence through Engagement in Collaboration, Research, and Scholarship (SEECRS) project at Whatcom Community College is a five-year program aiming to support academically talented students with demonstrated financial need in biology, chemistry, geology, computer science, engineering, and physics. This project is funded by an NSF S-STEM (Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) grant awarded in January 2017. Through an inclusive and long-range effort, the college identified a strong need for financial and comprehensive supports for STEM students. This project will offer financial, academic, and professional support to three two-year cohorts of students. The SEECRS project aims to utilize a STEM-specific guided pathways approach to strengthen recruitment, retention, and matriculation of STEM students at the community college level.
Scholarship recipients will be supported through participation in the SEECRS Scholars Academy, a multi-pronged approach to student support combining elements of community building, faculty mentorship, targeted advising activities, authentic science practice, and social activities. Students are introduced to disciplines of interest through opportunities to engage in course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) in Biology, Chemistry and Engineering courses, funded summer research opportunities, and seminars presented by STEM professionals. Communities of practice will be nurtured through the introduction of cohort building and faculty mentorship. Cohort development starts with a required two-credit course for all scholars that emphasizes STEM identity development, specifically focusing on identifying and coping with the ways non-dominant individuals (racial/ethnic minorities, non-male gender, lower socioeconomic status, first-generation, 2-year community college vs. 4-year institutions) are made to feel as outsiders in STEM. Each SEECRS scholar is paired with a faculty mentor who engages in ongoing mentor training.
The project evaluation will determine the efficacy of the project activities in achieving their intended outcomes. Specifically, we will collect data to answer the research question: To what extent can a guided pathways approach provide a coordinated and supported STEM experience at Whatcom Community College that: (1) increases student success, and (2) positively shifts students’ STEM self-identity? The evaluation will employ a quasi-experimental research design, specifically a pretest-posttest design with a matched comparison group.
Our first cohort of 14 students was selected over two application rounds (winter and summer 2017). We awarded ten full scholarships and four half-scholarships based on financial need data. Cohort demographics of note compared to institutional percentages are: females (64% vs. 57%), Hispanic (14% vs. 17%), African American (7% vs. 2%), white (79% vs. 66%), first generation college bound (43% vs. 37%). The cohort is comprised of six students interested in engineering, six in biology, and one each in geology and environmental sciences. With increased communication between the project team, our Financial Aid office, Entry and Advising, high school outreach, and the Title III grant-funded Achieve, Inspire, Motivate (AIM) Program, as well as a longer advertising time, we anticipate significantly enhancing our applicant pool for the next cohort. The results and lessons learned from our first year of implementation will be presented.
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