This research paper examines retaining traditionally underrepresented minorities (URM) in STEM fields. The retention of URM students in STEM fields is a current area of focus for engineering education research. After an extensive literature review and examination of best practices in retaining the targeted group, a cohort-based, professional development program with a summer bridge component was developed at a large land grant institution in the Mid-Atlantic region. One programmatic goal was to increase retention of underrepresented students in the engineering college which, ultimately, is expected to increase diversity in the engineering workforce. The program has a strong focus on cohort building, teamwork, mentorship, and developing an engineering identity. Students participate in a week-long summer bridge component prior to the start of their first semester. During their first year, students take a class as a cohort each semester, participate in an industrial site visit, and interact with faculty mentors.
Since 2016 the program has been funded by a National Science Foundation S-STEM grant, which provides scholarships to eligible program participants. Scholarships start at $4,500 during year one, and are renewable for up to five years, with an incremental increase of $1000 annually for years one through four. Even with the professional development program providing support and scholarships alleviating the financial burden of higher education, students are still leaving engineering. The 2016-2017 cohort consisted of five scholarship recipients, of which three remained in engineering as of fall 2018, the beginning of their third year. The 2017-2018 cohort consisted of seven scholarship recipients, of which five remained in engineering as of fall 2018, their second year. While the numbers of this scholarship group are small, their retention rate is alarmingly below the engineering college retention rate. Why?
This paper presents the results of additional investigations of the overall program cohorts (not only the scholarship recipients) and their non-program peers with the aim of determining predictors of retention in the targeted demographic. Student responses to three survey instruments: GRIT, MSLQ, and LAESE were analyzed to determine why students were leaving engineering, even though the program they participated in was strongly rooted in retention based literature. Student responses on program exit surveys were also analyzed to determine non-programmatic elements that may cause students to leave engineering. Results of this research is presented along with “lessons learned” and suggested actions to increase retention among the targeted population.
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