AURAS, the Arlington Undergraduate Research-based Achievement for STEM, is a project undertaken at The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) under an NSF STEP grant. Since the goal of the NSF STEP program is to increase the number of graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors, it was recognized that success in entry-level courses was a necessary first step in improving graduation rates of students majoring in Chemistry / Biochemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Engineering. Freshman-level courses in math and chemistry were targeted for intervention because of their high drop and failure rates: Pre-calculus, Calculus I, Calculus II, General Chemistry I, and Chemistry for Engineers. The Emerging Scholars Program (ESP) model was used to develop courses that were then offered to incoming freshmen beginning in Fall 2010. The central features of ESP are a problem-based approach to learning with a focus on high-level work rather than remediation, a welcoming community with shared academic interests, collaborative learning and small group interaction, with an underlying goal of increasing diversity by increasing minority student successes. In addition to the regular lecture and labs associated with the courses, ESP students were required to attend two two-hour ESP seminar/workshops per week for Pre-calculus and Calculus I, one two-hour session for Calculus II, and one four-hour ESP workshop per week for Chemistry.
Marked improvements in pass rates and a decrease in the drop rates for the participants in the AURAS classes were noted during the first three semesters. Since plans for institutionalization was a requirement of the STEP funding, efforts were made to make the AURAS classes less costly, so that they could be sustained in the institution only by the funds generated from tuition of students retained. However, it became apparent at the beginning of year 3 that major revisions were needed with a focus on sustainability if the promise of the grant funding was to be attained. Three initiatives were begun: mathematics course redesign, institution of an engineering problem-solving class, and further development of research methods components. Each of these initiatives was successfully completed and fully institutionalized.
Now, at the conclusion of the AURAS project, the team is looking back to extract lessons learned as a result of this work, including culture changes in the colleges of engineering and science, classroom modifications which resulted from demonstrated improvements, and recognition of a role for science and engineering education per se. The poster will detail lessons learned which have applicability to the community as a whole.
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