Initial Publication Date: May 21, 2018

STEM Accelerator/George Mason University Overview of the STEM Accelerator

Jessica Rosenberg, STEM Accelerator/George Mason University

The STEM Accelerator at George Mason University was created within the College of Science in 2011. Its mission is to:

o increase the number of STEM majors,
o improve retention rates of STEM students,
o reduce the time to graduation,
o help STEM graduates join the workforce or continue their education.

The Accelerator is an interdisciplinary unit that consists of faculty who split their time between their academic unit and the Accelerator. The faculty span the College of Science coming from Mathematical Sciences, Biology, Physics & Astronomy, Forensic Sciences, Geology, and Chemistry. These faculty teach within their department and help design, coordinate, and run STEM activities for the College of Science to achieve the mission of the Accelerator.

The largest program run by the STEM Accelerator is the Learning Assistant (LA) program that now has ~90 undergraduate students ever semester who support university classes across the College (up from 2 LAs 6 years ago). In addition, LAs help support outreach events throughout the academic year. We recruit students for this program from courses that generally request LAs to help support the class as well as across the College of Science. We are working to broaden the recruitment of students in this program as each semester there are at least a few slots that remain unfilled from the pool of initial applications. We are also working to better communicate the program to faculty to better engage them in the effort.

Over the summer, the STEM Accelerator runs a week-long Females of Color Underrepresented in STEM (FOCUS) camp which promotes STEM to 6-8th grade girls and FOCUS Academy for high school girls who participated in the FOCUS camp as middle school girls. These camps target and recruit underrepresented girls in STEM to engage them at an age when girls often lose interest in these disciplines.

Our Math Readiness and STEM Boot Camps are residential camps that are designed to prepare incoming students for the rigors of college in the STEM disciplines and build a cohort who students get to know before their arrival on campus. These camps have improved the retention of students who attend through this preparation and cohort building model. We have worked to get the word out on these Camps to all of the incoming students who have expressed an interest in the STEM disciplines and are offering scholarships (for the first time) to make them more accessible to a broader group of students.

As a unit that is aiming to improve STEM education and retention, we are committed to studying and evaluating the programs that we run. Faculty members are involved with the research to practice cycle, conducting research on the effectiveness of our programs and speaking about and publishing the results in the US and abroad. Some of the faculty are also engaging students in research experiences that involve STEM education research. In building these efforts we are working to communicate and collaborate more with our colleagues in the School of Education at and other Institutions.

The STEM Accelerator communicates with audiences across the University and in the larger community through e-mails, flyers, reports, our web site, and in person during events on and off campus. We are working to improve our communications internally so that faculty and administration better understand and appreciate the value of our unit.