Fostering Academic Success
Increasing persistence of all students in STEM begins with entering students, by supporting students from under-resourced high schools with less rigorous college preparation to help them develop the skills and strategies needed to be successful in gateway courses. Programs designed to strengthen quantitative and writing skills and build effective study habits in the first year enable these students to be more successful in introductory courses and to persist in STEM. After students declare their STEM majors, their continuing academic success depends on developing their own STEM identity, inquiry skills, and their ability to integrate knowledge across and within scientific disciplines. Programs to support these aims vary across the Capstone Institutions and programs.
Success in the first year
Many entering students who aspire to be STEM majors may be academically underprepared for the rigorous expectations of college level science courses. They may need to practice fundamental math skills, develop their writing or quantitative reasoning abilities, or acquire more effective study habits and learning strategies. Programs designed to support these students provide safe environments where students can practice, succeed, and build confidence in their scientific abilities.
Summer programs at many institutions bring limited numbers of students into intensive academic experiences to consolidate and build their skills base before courses begin.
Course-based research experiences for incoming first-year students at Hope College begin a week before the start of fall semester classes. The goal is to build a strong community for these students through this pre-college research experience that supports them through the first year transition.
Students who participate in the Swarthmore Summer Scholars Program focus on developing their writing and math skills and learn strategies for managing college-level academic work.
During academic terms, some programs offer supplementary resources in specialized skills courses or learning center programs (sometimes voluntary, sometimes mandatory). Other models embed support in introductory coursework.
The Academic Peer Mentoring program at Swarthmore College is geared toward helping students in introductory courses develop their skills and confidence in solving scientific problems.
Attentive academic advising and mentoring are crucial in the first year.
The Student Academic Success Office (SASO) at Xavier implements, in a coordinated fashion, the many strategies that help students succeed during their freshmen year and beyond. It works with individual departments and institution-wide support systems to offer "holistic" support to improve students' preparedness and academic success at Xavier.
Transitioning into the STEM major
Students develop their confidence and STEM identity as they become active participants in the scientific community.
A Research Apprenticeship Seminar introduces first-year and second-year students to the science culture at Barnard.
Grinnell focuses attention on second-year students through surveys and focus groups, and the Second Year Science Retreat.
Advanced science students at Smith College can serve as learning assistants, providing social support and academic training to introductory students while simultaneously deepening their own disciplinary knowledge and STEM identity due to their service as leaders and role models in the classroom.
For upperclass STEM majors, serving as an academic peer mentor for younger science students reinforces their own understanding of content and strengthens their confidence (Lopatto, 2009; Mahlab, 2010). There are considerable data on learning gains of peer mentoring programs for both the mentors and mentored students.
The FACES Peer Mentoring Program at Hope College helps students make a successful transition from high school to college science courses. The new Peer Partnership Learning (PPL) program embeds more experienced students in introductory courses and then provides opportunities outside of class for the PPL leaders to mentor first-year students as they build the skills they need to be successful in college.
Students with less-developed interests in their STEM majors are likely to consolidate their understanding and interests while working as counselors in the Science for Kids summer program.
Returning science students serve as mentors to first-year mentees through our AEMES Peer Mentoring program.
Attention to Quantitative Skills
Students who enter college from under-resourced high schools with limited opportunities for rigorous math preparation often face impediments to success in STEM courses. Furthermore, a lack of confidence in quantitative competency can undermine persistence in STEM and creates an even more substantial barrier to access when exacerbated by under-preparation.
Some schools invite students who may need additional preparation to participate in programs or classes that offer opportunities for quantitative practice, at times in tandem with online course work or modules. Another seamless way to advance skill development is through an infusion of quantitative problem-solving directly into existing content courses. Computational skills as an important part of quantitative literacy are also targeted through interdisciplinary programs that use large data sets to address scientific problems.
Bryn Mawr offers online, "just-in-time" instruction in math fundamentals that complements traditional coursework.
"Problem-solving" sections of introductory courses in math and science at Carleton provide additional support to students who would benefit.
Additional Approaches to Academic Success
As noted elsewhere on the website, students become engaged, motivated for, and successful in STEM classes through experiences that emphasize active learning and in authentic research experiences and developing an integrative knowledge base.
Lopatto, D. (2009). Science in Solution: The Impact of Undergraduate Research on Student Learning. Tucson, AZ: Research Corporation for Science Advancement.
Mahlab, M. (2010) "Who Benefits? Peer Mentors at Grinnell College," CUR Quarterly 31 (2), Winter 2010: 7–10.