This study introduces Lamar University’s AddreSsing the Gulf Coast REgion’s GraduatioN RaTe Crisis in Mathematics and Computer Science (ASCENT) initiative, an NSF awarded S-STEM program(Award # 1154606). The main goal of ASCENT is the rapid graduation of outstanding mathematicians and computer scientists by providing scholarships and extensive academic support to community college students who transfer to Lamar University and to current upper level Lamar students to complete bachelor’s degrees in mathematics or computer science. Academic support includes a Summer Bridge and an Enrichment program, undergraduate research, multi-level mentoring, and post-graduate placement. The ASCENT program targets talented “at risk” students who face social and economic hardship and provides them support to graduate on time. These “at risk” group includes women and minorities, community college students, first generation students and veteran students. The program has been very successful in the first three years in terms of recruitment, retention, and graduation. Moreover, ASCENT was the catalyst of institutionalizing undergraduate research at Lamar University. ASCENT's most significant contribution to LU is in the area of undergraduate research. Our ASCENT scholars conduct undergraduate research under the supervision of faculty mentors during the second summer of their program. Scholars get control over their education in ways that are almost impossible to replicate in the classroom. They present their work at the Texas STEM Conference in October. These undergraduate research initiative has increased the awareness of undergraduate research throughout the campus. As a result of this awareness Lamar University has established the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) in 2013 and the PI of ASCENT is serving as the director of the office. OUR hosts expo, conference, talks, workshops etc. It also offers research and travel grants to students. One of the other biggest achievements of the ASCENT program is the introduction of a conference for S-STEM scholarship recipients of the state of Texas and Louisiana. We just hosted the 3rd Texas STEM Conference on October 3, 2015 at the campus of LU. Over 120 students and faculty attended sessions created to emphasize improving STEM education. College and university faculty members, administrators, and peers involved in STEM education, or interested in getting involved, were invited to share and explore research, best practices, and ideas with their colleagues around the state of Texas and Louisiana. The conference was also attended by right S-STEM PI or co-PIs. This paper describes the ASCENT approach, its expected results, evaluation plan, and future plans.
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