The graduation rate in engineering can be correlated to several factors, including race and gender. Nationally, the populations with the highest engineering graduation rates are majority males, with Asian males at 66.5% and Caucasian males at 59.7%. The goal of diversity and inclusion program practitioners is to establish parity in graduation rates for all populations. There are several interventions that are proven to increase the retention and graduation of underrepresented students in engineering. Some of these include math intensive summer bridging, tutoring, cohort building where students establish a learning community. Singly these are somewhat effective, but when multiple interventions are applied over multiple years, the effect is additive and there is a significant increase in the likelihood of graduation. Outside of traditional applications, there other interventions that are shown to be effective on student retention, but they are not typically applied to underrepresented students. One of these is international scholarship, or study abroad experiences.
The research question addressed by this project is the following: While long term applications of traditional retention programming for underrepresented students yield graduation rates at parity or exceeding that of majority males, could the graduation rate be even higher with the addition of a scholarly international experience, an intervention not typically applied to underrepresented populations?
In this study, traditional interventions were applied to 10 students at Anonymous University (all underrepresented in engineering by race or gender) over a four year period. In addition, an international or study abroad experience was added. Interventions were applied addressing four known variables that increase retention: financial support, math and academic preparation, the learning community/cohort building, and international education. Three objectives or expected outcomes of this project were:
1. Increased retention and graduation rates of participating students in STEM fields.
2. Improved programs and strategies for sustaining diversity in STEM fields.
3. Improved access to engineering educational opportunities.
The quantitative measure of success for the NSF Pathways project is determined by the retention and graduation rate of the students in STEM fields at the end of five years. The current four-year retention rate for these students in 2017 was at 100%. The graduation rate of these ten students who completed all interventions is also expected to be at 100% in a STEM field, with 90% in engineering. Qualitative data through focus groups and essays indicated the importance of building a strong learning community, and the added impact of international scholarly collaboration.
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