Promoting the Success of Diverse Women in STEM

Program Overview

A women's liberal arts college located in suburban Philadelphia, Bryn Mawr College continues a long-standing tradition of recruiting and engaging young women in science and mathematics from an increasingly diverse student body. Among other strategies, this effort has included supporting undergraduate research, the development of quantitative and computational skills, and the use of active and blended learning pedagogies. To support original research on the part of our students, the college grants academic credit for supervised research during the academic year, provides stipends to support summer research with Bryn Mawr faculty as well as faculty from other institutions, and encourages faculty to work closely with undergraduates within their own research programs during the academic year and summer. To support quantitative skills among our students who intend to major in science and mathematics but need additional quantitative support, our Q Center offers supplementary courses as well as support for individuals. The college has also made a concerted effort to infuse quantitative and computational approaches into both introductory and upper-level courses in all science majors, with a special emphasis in biology and physics. Lastly, Bryn Mawr has spearheaded The Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts Initiative. A combination of online, self-paced learning and face-to-face classroom instruction, blended learning supports learner-centered pedagogies, meaningful faculty-student interactions, and deep, authentic learning. The Initiative has pursued its goals by hosting an annual conference and assisting faculty in converting their courses to a blended learning format.

These efforts have improved access of all of our students to science and mathematics at Bryn Mawr. In the last five years, 25–27% of each graduating class has majored in either science or mathematics, which is much higher than the national average of 9% for women. Our graduates also go on to earn doctoral degrees at a high rate; among the top fifty US News and World Report Liberal Arts Colleges for 2015, Bryn Mawr ranks seventh in the production of STEM PhDs.

These accomplishments would not have been possible were it not for several sources of generous support. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) was one of the first to provide support for infusion of active learning into our science curricula through grants awarded in 1988, 1992 and 1996. Through additional grants awarded in 2004, 2008 and 2012, HHMI has supported the Q Center and our push to infuse quantitative and computational approaches into our curriculum. Early support for blended learning at the college has come from the Mellon Foundation, EDUCAUSE's Next Generation Learning Challenges, and the Teagle Foundation. More recently, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, through a grant to the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), and the U.S. Department of Education, through the First in the World (FITW) initiative of the Fund for Improving Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), have supported blending learning at Bryn Mawr.

Cross-Cutting Themes

Increasing Persistence of All Students in STEM

The student body at Bryn Mawr College currently comprises about 1,300 female undergraduates, of which 31% self-identify as students of color, 24% are international, >20% are first-generation college students, and 53% receive need-based financial aid with 16–18% from low-income families (Pell Grant eligible). In order to recruit and enhance the persistence and success of all of our students in science and mathematics, the college leverages aspects of three programs: the STEM Posse Program, the Q-Project, and the Blended Learning Initiative.More about this theme

Developing Inquiry Skills

Bryn Mawr's science programs enable students to develop inquiry skills by participating in mentored independent research projects, as paid interns during the summer and for academic credit during the academic year, and by incorporating inquiry-based pedagogies, experiential learning, and open-ended laboratory experiments into coursework. More about this theme

Fostering Interdisciplinary or Integrative Learning

With support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), Bryn Mawr College has developed interdisciplinary and integrated curricula, notably in neuroscience, computational methods, biochemistry and molecular biology, environmental studies and geochemistry. Students are also exposed to interdisciplinary approaches through the college's Emily Balch Seminars and 360º Course Clusters programs. More about this theme

Pathways to Institutional Change

More about this themeWe have learned several important lessons through our work: change sometimes comes slowly; institutional change requires institutional support; let institutional change be driven by student need; collaborate with other departments to achieve curricular goals.

Funding Acknowledgment

The innovations described within the institutional profile of Bryn Mawr College were made possible through multiple grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI); the Mellon Foundation; EDUCAUSE's Next Generation Learning Challenges; the Teagle Foundation; the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, through a grant to the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U); and the U.S. Department of Education, through the First in the World (FITW) initiative of the Fund for Improving Postsecondary Education (FIPSE).

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