This complete Evidence-Based Practice paper discusses the efforts made to increase four-year and six-year graduation rates of students who declare a major in one of the engineering or computer science programs upon matriculating at California State University, Chico (CSU Chico). The four-year and six-year rates in these programs (~12% and 56%, respectively) are well below the University’s average graduation rates; it is critical that they increase to meet CSU Chico’s goals for graduation rates of 41% and 74%, respectively. The authors created a three-week summer bootcamp to strengthen student understanding of the fundamentals of mathematics and critical thinking as applied in these disciplines through a series of hands-on projects. Expected project outcomes were 1) an improvement in students’ math skills and 2) to enable students to make better informed choices for their major in their first year at CSU Chico.
The bootcamp recruited matriculating students in engineering and computer science from underrepresented minorities and first-generation and low-income populations. The core of the bootcamp curriculum was an intensive math program designed to stimulate deeper understanding of algebra and trigonometry and practical problem-solving skills. The curriculum also included Problem-Based Learning (PBL) modules with projects that applied concepts from computer science and mechanical, mechatronic, computer, and electrical engineering.
The first objective is particularly impactful because of the pre-requisite chains in most of our engineering (ENGR) and computer science (CS) curricula. A one-semester delay in graduation occurs when a student is enrolled in MATH 119 Precalculus rather than MATH 120 Analytic Geometry and Calculus. Further delays occur when the student enrolls, instead, in College Algebra or Trigonometry. Data from Spring 2019 revealed failure rates of 15% for Trigonometry, 24% for Precalculus, and 37% for Analytic Geometry and Calculus. Similar percentages of students withdrew from each course. Clearly, failure to complete math courses is a significant barrier to graduation when ENGR and CS students retake one or more math courses.
Many incoming ENGR and CS students have had limited exposure to these disciplines. Bootcamp participants gained this experience during the PBL projects, addressing the project’s second goal. Early positive reinforcement that a student’s choice of major was correct should reduce the likelihood that the student will change majors, which can extend the time to graduation.
Results of pre- and post-bootcamp surveys demonstrated improved self-confidence regarding skills important to their majors, particularly in their ability to learn and apply math concepts, as well as an increased sense of belonging in the major. The authors also assessed the ALEKS mathematics learning tool as a means to improve students’ math skills. Evaluation of the impact that PBL modules had in helping students recognize the importance and application of mathematics in their chosen fields and the faculty reflections on the bootcamp are still in progress. Data on participants’ success in Fall 2019 math courses and retention in their majors will be presented. Open-ended responses in the survey provided formative evaluation of the bootcamp and will be used to improve the curriculum. Finally, steps planned to further support the bootcamp cohort’s progress towards graduation will be described.
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