Developing future STEM Professionals at Hope College

Program Overview

For more than 100 years, Hope faculty have taught with the conviction that students learn most effectively by doing science. The concept was first implemented by rewarding student success with bringing them into labs to serve as assistants. Then as traditional disciplinary laboratory courses were established, apprentice-model research experiences for some students were also instituted. For decades, Hope faculty felt that these opportunities were transformative for students, and in the early 2000s, in collaboration with Grinnell College, Harvey Mudd College, and Wellesley College, they set out to gather data to document the ways in which these experiences impacted students. These colleges worked with Elaine Seymour and David Lopatto to provide evidence of the value of both research and research-like course experiences for undergraduate students. These studies have not only motivated the faculty at Hope College to continue to provide opportunities for students to engage in research, but to refine their models in order to have even more positive impacts. In recent decades, disciplinary boundaries have become less well-defined, leading to rich interdisciplinary research programs and coursework. Research experiences are now embedded not only in capstone courses but also in introductory courses. With research experiences expanding to younger students, we have supported research mentor training and mentoring opportunities for older students. By providing pathways for STEM practitioners to move from novices to independent practitioners, and pathways from protege to mentor as well, we are preparing students for successful futures as STEM professionals.

Faculty commitment to this learning-by-doing philosophy has led to a rich professional learning community (PLC) with discussions on teaching, learning and research. Faculty have worked together to revise and create new courses with embedded research experiences. They have invited novices to join their research teams. They have supported a research mentor training program that helps upper-level students develop skills needed to be good mentors to novice researchers. They have also supported efforts to engage K–12 students and educators in STEM experiences that spark interest in STEM. The PLC has fostered additional efforts to create interdisciplinary courses not only for STEM majors but for all students at Hope. The PLC has also led to the recognition that while it is important to engage students in doing science as early as possible in their academic careers, it is also important to support them throughout the process. Thus the faculty have embraced near-peer mentoring programs, such as the Fostering a Community of Excellence in Science (FACES) program, the Peer-Partnership Learning program (PPL), and Research Mentor Training program and other community building activities.

Throughout this process, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has provided financial support to launch new endeavors supporting the Hope model of STEM education. For example, HHMI support helped the transition from a single biochemistry course at Hope to a rich, interdisciplinary biochemistry and molecular biology major in the 1990s. This early interdisciplinary program served as a model for the creation of several successful interdisciplinary programs, including a neuroscience program and an environmental science program. More recent efforts have focused on developing or revising introductory courses to include significant research activities. HHMI awards have continuously supported apprentice-model research experiences for Hope undergraduates, which helped initially to institutionalize the culture of the Hope STEM research community across all STEM disciplines. HHMI support has also played a crucial role in allowing us to provide intensive research experiences to pre-service K–12 teachers. Through the years, it has also allowed us to experiment, providing opportunities for pre-college students to participate in apprentice-model research experiences and also in team-based summer experiences. HHMI support has allowed us to pilot new endeavors, testing new models for teaching, learning and scholarship which, when successful, have been institutionalized.

Cross-Cutting Themes

Increasing Persistence of All Students in STEM

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We believe that building community and empowering students with the skills they need to be successful learners and STEM practitioners are key factors to increasing persistence in STEM fields. Engaging students in research programs not only enhances learning and skill acquisition, it increases persistence in that students see themselves as future STEM professionals. By providing more students with research experiences, we hope more students will find meaningful connections between their education and their future plans. In addition to research experiences, we believe developing community is key to increasing persistence. Having a sense of belonging is important for helping students make the connections socially and academically that will help them succeed at college and beyond. Creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for underrepresented students has been a goal of the FACES program. In addition, as the institution strives to reach students from a broader range of backgrounds, the student skills of the incoming first-year students have also become more diverse. The PPL program has been developed to help students in introductory STEM courses develop student skills needed to be a successful college learner in the context of their STEM courses. K–12 outreach programs serve as a fourth way we have encouraged persistence, both in exposing more students at a younger age to STEM curricula, and offering experiential learning opportunities for undergraduates.

Developing Inquiry Skills

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Hope students have the opportunity to develop inquiry skills in numerous settings throughout their time on campus. The two most common models for engaging students in research are apprentice-based research experiences and course-based research experiences. HHMI awards have led to these opportunities for not only STEM majors but for non-STEM majors as well. Hope now has apprentice-based research experiences for pre-service STEM educators, as well as with research experiences embedded in General Education Math and Science courses and STEM majors courses at all levels. Programs through the Center for Exploratory Learning reach the K–12 community with opportunities to develop inquiry skills.

Fostering Interdisciplinary or Integrative Learning

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Hope's mission is to educate students for lives of leadership and service in a global society. Our goal for our students is to integrate knowledge and technical skills from an array of courses and co-curricular activities as well as develop interpersonal skills and a sense of vocation. In both discipline-specific and interdisciplinary courses, Hope has applied our learning-by-doing philosophy by creating hands-on learning labs. These learning-by-doing experiences enable students to effectively integrate learning from different contexts such as lectures, traditional labs, active-learning modules, and interdisciplinary courses, and in the process develop the skills and sense of vocation to be successful post-graduation. Our neuroscience program leading to a minor in neuroscience exemplifies how Hope fosters interdisciplinary and integrative learning and has become a model for other programs developed at Hope College.

Pathways to Institutional Change

More about this themeInstitutional changes in higher education inevitably take place; the key is to develop an institutional culture to help ensure that the changes are not only positive, but are in the best interests of the community. Hope College has a culture in which preparing students to be future leaders in the global community has been foundational. For STEM students, that meant that students needed to be actively engaged in doing the work of STEM professionals through research and teaching. It meant STEM faculty must also be actively engaged in research and teaching, not just locally, but also in the broader community. When the college was small, the sense of community and shared vision was easy to maintain. As the college has grown and the rate of change has accelerated, more effort has been needed to build community and shared vision for the STEM programs, across the college community and with the national and global STEM community. Over the past twenty-plus years at Hope, some programs and people have come and gone, however the overarching goals are still the same. We are striving to prepare students to be future leaders in the global community. We summarize some of the lessons we have learned along the way below.

Funding Acknowledgment

The work described here has been supported by funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the National Science Foundation, the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, the Sherman Fairchild Foundation, the Michigan Space Grant Consortium, ExxonMobil, and DTE Energy.

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