2021 CoNECD

Removing Barriers and Preparing Students for STEM Majors through Partnerships with Local Public Schools

Presented at CoNECD Session : Day 1 Slot 6 Technical Session 4

Removing barriers and preparing students for STEM majors through partnerships with local public schools

This study will present a partnership between a College of Engineering and a local school district faced with low numbers of students enrolling in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics majors who sought to change the trend. Our partnership began planning in 2019 and started our first cohort the summer of 2020. This Public School District has 35,000 students and 75% of them are from under-represented Minorities. Unknowingly over the years, the number of schools offering a High School Algebra-based Physics course has decreased. The College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) requires students to have high school Physics and Chemistry as minimum coursework for admissions into college level engineering degrees. Part of the reason for the decline in the local students entering STEM majors at the university was found to be the lack of access to these courses among students in high schools. Physics was identified as the course that a larger number of schools were unable to offer due to staffing, scheduling, or other concerns.
The university has a new strategic direction, “NEXT lives here”, and seeks to strengthen the access, preparation, and pathway programs for local students through the “XXX Strong” initiative. The College of Engineering and Applied Science, after much research on the barriers, decided to offer an Algebra based Physics course for local students.
During the planning process, a large amount of focus was given to creating a college credit plus course where students would receive college credit while in high school. In order for this to happen, however, the students would need to meet college level math requirements and the course would have to be a college level course. For college application purposes, students needed an algebra based physics course, where they could get a background, develop interest, and build confidence with the material versus a college level course which may or may not count for credit at the college they choose. It was imperative we focused on providing the access and opportunity for the local students to have equal educational resources including, the science courses, so they could be considered on a more equal basis for admission to STEM majors in colleges, more specifically at the local University.
Utilizing the Ohio Department of Education Credit Flexibility option where students can engage in outside courses for mastery, our two organizations were able to begin to remove the barrier. This course took place over the summer, interfering with many plans students may have such as work and family obligations. With Credit Flexibility, students are not held to a specific hour total or seat time. Instead, students are assessed on demonstrated skill and level of performance. We designed our course to cover the Ohio Department of Education’s Physics standards and created an interactive, project-based learning course to enable students to experience and master the use of physics in everyday life. Learning was assessed by a pre/post evaluation of content knowledge, testing on topics, daily assignments, and a final presentation on “application of physics in real life.”
This initiative was in line with the goal of the Office of Inclusive Excellence and Community Engagement to increase the number of Under-represented Minorities in the College of Engineering and Applied Science. Intentionally working with our diverse school district to provide this physics course will begin to develop a pipeline for the school and STEM Fields. Typically, upon applying for any STEM discipline, if students were missing physics or chemistry they would be directed to an exploratory program or a second choice major instead of the College of Engineering. This would lengthen the time and financial burden of students for their college career. It was believed many would then choose another major entirely as a result. Taking this course instead can begin to open a new pathway for students to consider and be eligible for admission while providing greater career exploration. Students can now foresee a career in STEM fields if they so choose.
Local companies have also sought to diversify their workforce in STEM fields and were interested in investing in the STEM pipeline. Once aware of the barrier, they were more than willing to partner with the University and the course was able to secure funding from these local companies for 5 years. This session will highlight the many layers and facets of accomplishing this partnership. The study will describe the mechanics, planning, hiring, recruitment and implementation of the offered course.
As details were being finalized, the course was modified to accommodate for circumstances arising due to the COVID -19 pandemic. A new virtual format was developed to engage high school students instead of the original in person design. This new virtual format presented a unique set of challenges to overcome such as the interactive labs which then had to be adapted for simple household items all students would find while in quarantine. Our research plan will include evaluation of student knowledge, effectiveness of content delivery, and interest in Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology. Upon enrollment, participants initially took an assessment of basic understanding of physics principals such as kinematics, forces, and waves which will be compared to a similar post-test as a measure of improvement. Students’ end of course presentations, which are a collection of examples of the course topics represented in real life, will also be analyzed for understanding and application of course material. Interest in STEM fields will be assessed through a questionnaire about how the course may have impacted their choice of potential career fields. These items will guide us in future iterations of the course and expansion of our efforts into Chemistry and a combined Physics/Calculus course in the future.
The resulting analysis will investigate whether participants in the course:
A) were more likely to pursue an education and career in STEM than a non-participant,
B) were able to define strong foundation in physics curriculum as per high school standards of the district
c) persisted in pursuing education in STEM after high school graduation.

  1. Don Wittrock University of Cincinnati CEAS Office of Inclusive Excellence and Community Engagement [biography]
  2. Dr. Whitney Gaskins University of Cincinnati [biography]
  3. Ms. Jutshi Agarwal University of Cincinnati [biography]
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  • Broadening Participation in Engineering and Engineering Technology
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