Learning Environment and Academic Research Network (L.E.A.R.N.)

Travis York, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities

Program Description

Learning Environment and Academic Research Network (L.E.A.R.N.) is a University of Central Florida (UCF) program that invites science, technology, engineering, and mathematics students to become a part of a supportive learning community. Through NSF funding, two additional institutions, Florida Atlantic University and Western Carolina University, each run their a L.E.A.R.N. program. L.E.A.R.N. is for incoming freshman or students transferring from a state college, who will start in summer or fall and major in one of the following disciplines:

  • Engineering and Computer Science
  • Science (Biology, Chemistry, Biomedical Sciences, Biotechnology, Math, Physics, Forensic Science, and Statistics)
  • Optics and Photonics

F-L.E.A.R.N. is for students entering UCF from high school.
T-L.E.A.R.N. is for students entering UCF from a state/community college.

Program Purpose

This project directly addresses a national need to promote STEM education and to establish a retention model for increasing the numbers of STEM undergraduate students who will more than likely advance into graduate education and professional careers in science. The skills learned through research, such as critical thinking and communication, will positively impact all students regardless of their career choices. The current proposal will directly impact up to 572 undergraduate students during the five-year time frame (347 through NSF funding, 225 through sustaining effort), by training them in undergraduate research through structured coursework and by providing direct research experiences.

What makes this program unique is the creation of a community of scholars and a cohort of peers who have similar interests and goals. This work will also catalyze the development of an undergraduate research culture among the faculty and student body. An additional number of graduate students, who will serve as research mentors for F-L.E.A.R.N. (up to 100), will gain valuable experiences in training and mentoring as potential faculty members. The potential project impact of establishing an effective, replicable model for other institutions is significant, and will help promote and expand access to higher education for underrepresented groups in STEM, a national priority.

Program Goals

This work will add to a small body of existing literature on how to successfully retain STEM students who transfer into four-year institutions.

Building upon the success achieved FTIC students (F-L.E.A.R.N. for first-year students), we will adapt this model to incoming upper-division AA transfer STEM students (T-L.E.A.R.N. for transfer students) and will extend the current UCF model to Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and Western Carolina University (WCU) to form the L.E.A.R.N. Consortium.

The research questions that this proposal addresses include:

(1) To what extent can we positively impact transfer student STEM retention and success by adapting a successful STEM FTIC community-cohort undergraduate research model to an AA transfer student population at three institutions, and

(2) To what extent can we replicate the retention success of a FTIC community-cohort undergraduate research program at two other institutions?

To answer these questions, the following goals have been established:

(a) Adapt the current L.E.A.R.N. model to a transfer student population (T-L.E.A.R.N.) at UCF, FAU, and WCU

(b) Implement the L.E.A.R.N. model for FTIC students (F-L.E.A.R.N.) to WCU and FAU

(c) Assess the impacts of the L.E.A.R.N. consortium on student retention and success in STEM for different student populations and at different institutions, and

(d) Disseminate the L.E.A.R.N. model to expand the L.E.A.R.N. consortium.

Program Activities

Once students enter the program and are placed in their cohorts, learning communities and mentor programs.

UCF then measures:

  • Outcome 1: Retention and GPAs of L.E.A.R.N. student cohorts in STEM will be higher than a matched control groups
  • Outcome 2: L.E.A.R.N. students will show developmental gains in targeted student learning outcomes including critical thinking, knowledge of research concepts and oral and written communication
  • Outcome 3: L.E.A.R.N. students will report satisfactory experiences and added value to their learning experiences as a consequence of the L.E.A.R.N. community and study groups, research courses and assistantship, mentoring, and training for graduate school

Program Costs and ROI

  • Average yearly costs to maintain this initiative: The T-LEARN grant for five years is approximately $620,000 (2015-2020)
  • Average number of individuals served per year by this initiative: 26-50

References and Accessory Materials

L.E.A.R.N. Program Website

L.E.A.R.N. Consortium