Initial Publication Date: April 1, 2016

Increasing Persistence of All Students in STEM

Engagement in Research

References and Resources

Early efforts to increase persistence in STEM focused on apprenticeship research models - engaging students in faculty research labs. In 2001–2002, Hope, in collaboration with Grinnell College, Harvey Mudd College, and Wellesley College, participated in an effort to assess the impact of research experiences on undergraduates. The findings of this work indicated that students felt increased self-confidence and a greater sense of self-identification as scientists. This encouraged Hope faculty to engage younger students, not only those in their first year of college, but also pre-college students. The personal connections the students make with their research mentors play an important role in helping students feel like they belong in and can succeed in STEM activities.

It is clear that the faculty mentor-student protege relationship plays a significant role in making the apprenticeship research model successful. However, as the program has grown, it has become apparent that the senior student researchers can also play a significant role as mentors to the novice researchers. Thus an undergraduate research mentor training program, Hughes Research Scholars Program, for experienced research students has been developed over the past several years. The program is based on the successful Research Mentor Training program developed by faculty at the University of Wisconsin for new faculty and post-doctoral fellows and helps senior undergraduates develop awareness of the challenges that novice researchers face and ways in which they can support novices in their research group. The program also indirectly impacts the faculty mentors, who often discuss the weekly assignments of the undergraduate mentors as they work through the Research Mentor Training seminar program.

While Hope faculty typically engage an average of 130 students in research during the summer, this is a small fraction of the students interested in pursuing STEM degrees at Hope. Thus many faculty are embedding research experiences in courses. (See the Developing Inquiry Skills for a complete description of the Course-based Research Experience program.) In recent years, several first-year courses have incorporated a course-based research bridge experience for incoming first-year students by beginning the course a week early when students can focus full-time on getting started on the research question before the rest of their fall semester classes begin. These Day1: Research Community programs are described in the Fostering Integrative Learning section.

Developing Community: FACES Peer Mentoring and STEM Community Program

While all of these research experiences have positive impacts on student persistence in STEM fields—especially CREs offered at the introductory levels, where engaging with research can improve student confidence and connectedness to areas of study and faculty mentors—they are not sufficient. Quite simply, there are not enough opportunities for every potential STEM major to participate in a CRE in the first semester at Hope. So, as another important way to help first-year students get connected, we created the FACES mentoring program. FACES (Fostering A Community of Excellence in Science) is a peer-mentoring program for first-year students who have expressed interests in any of the STEM fields at Hope and who are members of underrepresented groups at Hope or in their STEM discipline. All students who choose to participate are assigned an upper-level mentor who is majoring in a field of interest of the student. The mentors are not academic tutors, but simply guides to help the students have a more successful transition to Hope. Mentors help younger students find resources at Hope, make connections with faculty members, and help them develop a stronger connection to the STEM community. Mentors are chosen based on STEM experiences, interest in the program and diversity sensitivity.

Since the program began in 2010 with a group of thireen first-year students of color, it has grown to a group of forty-two first-year students from groups underrepresented both at Hope and in STEM fields. All students of color, international students and women interested in engineering are invited to participate. Also, participants and faculty can invite any students in their introductory STEM courses who may benefit from the supportive FACES community. Thus far, the voluntary program is having a positive impact on grade point averages and student retention both at Hope and in STEM fields.

Developing Academic Skills and Community: Peer Partnership Learning Program

The Peer Partnership Learning (PPL) program engages upper-level students to help first-year students develop the skills they need to be successful college learners. PPL leaders for a specific course attend the class meetings and model good student behaviors (taking notes, engaging in discussion, etc). If the course uses active learning pedagogies, they also help facilitate the small group efforts. The PPL leader also leads a small-group session for one hour a week outside of regularly scheduled class time. These small-group sessions are designed to help student participants develop good student skills and practices in the context of tackling more complex course content. This program has fostered greater communication between faculty and students as the PPL leaders share feedback from the small-group sessions with the faculty and from the faculty to the students. It has helped students form communities and study groups that continue to support each other even outside of the scheduled PPL and class times. The program was launched in the fall of 2015, so quantitative data indicating success is limited, however qualitative feedback from students, PPL leaders and faculty has all been positive. In addition, student participation in PPL sessions in the second semester has been very strong, with a significant number of students returning.

Outreach Programs

Outreach to K–12 students and teachers has long been part of Hope's STEM activities. From about 1973 to 2005, Hope sponsored an annual Science Day to which local and regional high school science teachers and students were invited to lectures, demonstrations, and hands-on activities in STEM fields. With support from our first HHMI award, Hope initiated a summer research program for high school students, with an emphasis on students belonging to groups underrepresented in STEM fields and at Hope College. This program waxed and waned with funding opportunities and was most recently known as the REACH (Research Experiences Across Cultures at Hope) program. From 1977 to 1992, Hope hosted an NSF-funded summer workshop for high school chemistry teachers. Hope has also involved high school teachers in summer research projects with the support from the American Physiological Society, the National Science Foundation and other sources. Individual faculty members at Hope, such as Dr. Donald Cronkite, who from 1991 to 1997 was the academic director of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation Leadership Institute for High School Biology Teachers, and Dr. Kathy Winnett-Murray, who was a leader in the SYEFEST II: Schoolyard Ecology for Elementary School Teachers program, have also played important roles in STEM outreach.

Clearly, outreach has been a significant component of the STEM educational experience at Hope for many years. Programs have come and gone as funding and community needs have changed. However, one challenge has been a lack of continuity and institutional memory. Over time, several programs have "started" that are quite similar to old programs, but the new program creators have not been able to take advantage of the lessons learned from the previous programs due to lack of institutional memory. Thus the Center for Exploratory Learning was created in the hopes that having an established center on campus would provide a structure that would allow institutional lessons learned to be shared more broadly and foster relationship building (and sustaining) within the local community. In a very short time, the Center for Exploratory Learning has become an effective program for reaching out to K–12 students and teachers to explore STEM topics and to develop community connections to Hope STEM students, faculty and programs. The Center for Exploratory Learning has three target audiences: K–12 students, future STEM educators, and current STEM educators. This outreach program allows future STEM educators and STEM majors to engage K–12 students in high-quality, inquiry-based STEM activities, primarily through week-long summer STEM academies. For STEM majors, these academies provide opportunities to share their excitement about STEM with younger students. For future STEM educators, it provides opportunities to engage as professionals in their field. Some future STEM educators are involved in developing new academy curricula, often based on the activities of faculty researchers. These pre-service teachers are mentored by education researchers and education professionals, developing the skills they will need both as researchers and educators. By serving as instructional staff in the academies, these future educators get to experience hands-on, inquiry-based instruction in ways they often cannot in traditional classroom placements, where the curriculum is defined by an outside entity and the future educator must teach as they are told to teach. This effort to engage future educators in STEM research and STEM Education research is not new, but by providing the infrastructure of the Center for Exploratory Learning, we hope to expand opportunities for future STEM educators and create a culture of engagement in research for future STEM educators similar to the culture that exists for other STEM majors.

The Center for Exploratory Learning will also provide greater opportunity for engagement of pre-college students in meaningful STEM inquiry experiences. Small programs for rising high school seniors have been conducted for many years at Hope, however, the opportunities are limited (due to funds, faculty time and more). Thus we hope that the center's programs will help us provide expanded opportunity for high-school students to discover their interest and passion for STEM inquiry.