This work-in-progress paper will (1) examine the first-year seminar and its components to determine how it impacts academic success, sense of belonging and self-efficacy for the student scholars and (2) compare the academic outcomes and experiences of student scholars who participate in the first-year seminar to the student scholars who do not. These research conclusions will provide information allowing for improvement and expansion of the first-year seminar.
I am motivated to research this topic because I want to use the findings to improve upon and expand first-year programs and to ultimately provide better tools and supports for underrepresented students in STEM, enabling them to advocate for themselves, thrive academically and believe they belong in the STEM major they selected in undergraduate, graduate and career environments.
According to the literature, academic accomplishments of underrepresented students in STEM are improved by several factors. One factor is academic preparedness through learning and the path by which students have been educated. The “intensity and quality of curriculum is a cumulative investment of years of effort- by schools, teachers and students and provides momentum into higher education and beyond (Adelman, 1999, p. 86, 2006). Two other factors are student engagement through college classroom learning communities (Zhao & Kuh, 2004) and high impact activities (Kuh, 2008). The college environment, like the classroom, is important because it has the capability to; demonstrate a practice of democracy, create a caring atmosphere, being dialogic, utilizing an innovative curriculum and can be an effective change agent (Lenning and Ebbers (1999).
High impact activities, such as first-year seminars, that demonstrate these traits can propel students toward academic success, self-efficacy (Bandura, 1994) and a sense of belonging (Kuh, 2008). Due to these outcomes, the addition of first-year seminar is becoming increasingly more apparent in colleges and universities and when implemented well, the first-year seminar offers a robust focus on critical thinking, opportunities for writing proficiency, collaborative learning, and the ability to obtain and process information, all to develop students’ academic and applied capabilities. Moreover, it lends itself to an exceptional first-year experience (Kuh, 2008).
Programs focused on academic preparedness, self-efficacy and a sense of belonging are necessary for underrepresented STEM students as they pursue academic excellence (Koch, R., et al., 2018). In the first-year seminar the goal is to develop and implement a seminar with these foci, that; will strengthen the student scholars’ academic preparedness, provide them with tools that enable them to be better learners, introduce campus support, as well as grow the student scholars’ sense of belonging and self-efficacy on campus and in STEM.
According to Jenson (2011), a sense of belonging and a social connectedness to the campus community are important factors affecting academic success. Additionally, “perceived self-efficacy, defined as “people's beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives”, is important to students’ academic progress (Bandura, 1994, p.1).
Research questions: How does the first-year seminar impact academic success, sense of belonging and self-efficacy for the student scholars and what significant differences exist in academic success based on participation in the first-year seminar as we compare student scholars who participated in the first-year seminar and those who did not. To answer these questions, we will employ a parallel formed (Merten, 2010) mixed method approach using a student development theory, I-O-E (Austin, 1984), with a phenomenological lens along with survey and institutional data.
I anticipate the result will confirm that the student scholars participating in the first-year seminar will have developed a stronger sense of belonging, self-efficacy strategies and will have improved their academic standing. I also foresee the narrative revealing the student scholars in the first-year seminar having developed into a cohort of peers who will support each other throughout their undergraduate academic years. Additionally, I expect the narrative to provide data as to how the first-year seminar supported the student scholars.
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