Initial Publication Date: January 14, 2010
Contact Person: Deborah Gross

Program Mission

FOCUS supports students through their entry into the study of science/math at Carleton and as they continue in the curriculum by creating a cohort which enrolls in classes together (in so far as this makes sense), meets regularly in a colloquium throughout the first year, and has an opportunity for work study in the sciences.

What is the impetus for the program? What are the goals of the program?

The main goal of the program is to create a cohort of success within the sciences. The students targeted for FOCUS are those who do not have all of the advantages in their previous schooling that many of their peers do, and many of the FOCUS students are members of groups under-represented in the sciences or from low socio-economic status backgrounds (although not all are).

How is the program structured?

Students are selected for the cohort prior to starting at Carleton, through suggestions from the Dean of Admissions and through student application. The selected students are all contacted by faculty mentor(s) prior to being added to the cohort. Members of the cohort make up the entire population of a first-term first-year seminar on a science/math themed topic. Students are concurrently enrolled in a colloquium that is worth 1/3 of a course credit, but which continues for all three terms of their first year. The FOCUS mentor teaches this colloquium. Students are assigned the FOCUS mentor (or a previous FOCUS mentor) as an academic adviser, so they get advising from within the sciences. In their second and third years, the cohort meets informally but regularly. All FOCUS students are offered peer- mentors in all of their science/math courses through their entire Carleton career.

Who was involved in starting and/or who is involved in running the program? What were/are their roles?

Carleton faculty and an Associate Dean of the College were involved in planning this program, as a result of learning from successful programs on and off campus. On-campus programs that informed the development of FOCUS are the Posse program and the Mellon-Mays Fellows program. Off-campus programs that were especially informative include the Meyerhoff Scholars program at UMBC and the Biology Scholars Program at UCB.
The program is now managed by a single faculty member, with input from the Associate Dean and representatives from the individual science/math departments, and with student input. The budget is provided by the College's HHMI grant and the College's subgrant from the North Star STEM Alliance NSF-LSAMP grant.

Key steps/missteps

Recruiting has been the most interesting thing to learn, as well as the appropriate level of students to target. We learned that students should be asked to apply, but that the application should not include letters or other evaluations from high school teachers. While the program is relatively inexpensive, it is not free and it takes a lot of time to manage. It is important to build in compensation for faculty who administer such programs from the beginning (we are working to fix this structural problem).

How is the program evaluated

The students in each cohort are surveyed and interviewed at the beginning and end of their first year, and once each subsequent year. The surveys and interviews are conducted by SERC and are designed to understand how the program supports the endeavors of the students as well as their attitudes toward science/math. We will shortly implement a "matched cohort" evaluation of students who were invited to participate but didn't, to assess whether there are significant differences between the experiences and attitudes of the FOCUS students and their peers.

References and notes

Please contact Deborah Gross, Associate Professor of Chemistry, Carleton College, 1 North College Street, Northfield, MN 55057;; 507-222-5629 with any further questions.