This Complete Evidence-Based Practice paper describes a summer intervention program for at-risk STEM students. University X is a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and Minority Serving Institution (MSI) located in a service region with historically low educational achievement. Students from local high school districts lag behind their statewide peers in mathematics testing and readiness for college. More than one-fourth of freshmen entering University X in Fall 2016 were not ready for college-level mathematics. As a consequence, many STEM majors at University X enter their programs at either the remedial or pre-calculus level, which increases their time to graduation and lowers their persistence in STEM.
To investigate strategies to address this issue, University X received an NSF IUSE grant. One of the activities in the grant was this program, which was intended to provide a connection between mathematics and STEM disciplines to encourage persistence and success. The program ran for four summers, from 2015 to 2018. The program paired small groups of students with faculty mentors to complete a STEM project for two weeks (one week in Summer 2015). Students also participated in a career workshop on the last half-day of the program.
Students were considered “at-risk” in STEM if they were still in pre-calculus or earlier courses at the end of the academic year. These were primarily first-year students, although participants could also be second-year students or transfer students in their first year at University X after transfer if they were also considered at-risk. Grant personnel went to pre-calculus courses in Spring term to recruit participants. Faculty and staff advisors could also refer a student to the program for another reason, such as repeating mathematics courses or a low GPA.
Students were not told that the program was for at-risk students, but rather that it was for students still at the pre-calculus or earlier level. There was a small stipend for completion of the program, to encourage students to participate. Students who participated the prior summer were also allowed to return for a second summer, regardless of their mathematics progress.
In total, 89 students participated in the program, with 18 of those students returning to participate for a second summer. 39% majored in sciences, 38% majored in engineering, 16% majored in mathematics or computer science, and 7% were another major or undeclared. Mathematics preparation matches the target audience, with 76% in pre-calculus or earlier mathematics courses at time of acceptance. The majority of the students at the pre-calculus or earlier level were first-year students.
Retention within STEM and within University X was tracked. Overall, 67% persisted within STEM and 82% persisted within University X. One-year, two-year, and three-year retention rates for the participants exceeded the institutional retention rates for University X. Only 5% of the participants were dismissed from University X due to poor academic performance.
Pre- and post-surveys were administered to the participants. On the post-survey, 74% had a self-rated increase in interest in their major. On the paired pre- and post-survey Likert scale questions, 39% had an increased understanding of the skills needed for success in STEM careers and 47% had an increased understanding of STEM research.
Several participants and faculty mentors were also interviewed by the internal and external evaluators. Three themes emerged from a qualitative analysis of interview data. First, the program expanded the students’ perspectives of their chosen career objective through fun and creative hands-on STEM projects. Second, the program allowed students to connect with faculty mentors and other students, which helped students be more comfortable asking questions and helped them to understand that struggling with topics is a normal part of STEM education. Faculty mentors also appreciated the opportunity to encourage the students to persist. Third, the program helped students develop their teamwork and communication skills, which are valuable tools for success.
This paper builds on two previous work-in-progress publications about the first year of the program and the first two years of the program respectively. Additional participant data from the Fall 2019 term, including four-year retention rates, will also be analyzed in the final paper.
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