Persistence in STEM is more likely when students begin to see themselves as scientists, engineers or mathematicians. Such a STEM identity typically builds on a student's sense of belonging within a STEM community, whether based on his or her interest in STEM, the student's declared major, participation in a research group, or membership in some other intentional group. There are many strategies to develop and support this sense of belonging; some are broadly available to all students, while some are directed toward students from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM, based on race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, being first-generation college students, or having attended under-resourced high schools.
MentoringMentoring relationships provide students with support, advice, and inspiration across multiple levels of the STEM enterprise. These can be more or less formal, and more or less connected, depending on the specific aims of the programs. For example, the Grinnell "Web of Mentoring" provides a well-integrated structure that includes multiple examples of peer and faculty mentoring. Mentoring programs provide social support and positive role models, and they create visibility and leadership opportunities for underrepresented students who serve as mentors.
Peer mentoring: A STEM identity can develop when a student interacts with and observes students with whom they identify and are also successfully engaged in STEM. In some cases, such interactions can take the form of research apprenticeships, while in others such interactions are more academically centered.Hope College
Hope has three types of peer mentoring: academic mentoring in our Peer Partnership Learning (PPL) program; social and community peer mentoring through the Hope FACES Program; and research mentoring through both the HHMI Research Scholars and the Day1: Watershed programs. All three peer mentoring programs engage experienced students to serve as mentors to novices.Xavier University of Louisiana
At Xavier, the various STEM tutoring centers (called Resource Centers) employ students as tutors. In addition, the recently started Supplemental Instruction (SI) academic assistance program allows hosting of weekly, peer-run study and review sessions. These programs are supported by funding from the US Department of Education and the National Institutes of Health (BUILD).Barnard College
At Barnard, a student-run biology help room provides a community space where more experienced students help students in the introductory courses with learning strategies. This activity not only assists students academically, it provides a context for broader discussions about pursuing STEM education and career opportunities.
Faculty mentoring: The support derived from individual relationships between faculty members and students can help those students feel more connected to STEM disciplines. This can include faculty mentoring cohorts and individual student-faculty relationships based on collaborative research experiences and other interactions (present at all of the Capstone Institutions). While students work under the mentorship of faculty, conversations about goal-setting, skills development, interdisciplinary connections, professional development, and future plans are all part of helping students develop their STEM identity and encouraging persistence. Faculty mentors may provide discipline-specific guidance but also support students as they adjust to college and their science major.Carleton College
Carleton's STEM cohort programs are lead by faculty mentors who meet regularly with students for individual advising as well as cohort-group colloquia.Smith College
Students in the AEMES Scholars program are paired with faculty in their first two years. They receive stipends to work in a faculty mentor's lab, and this mentor also serves as their academic adviser.
Professional mentoring: Connecting students to professionals in STEM (in industry or academia) gives them real-world examples of pathways to a STEM career, and in some cases the chance to work with mentors with whom they can identify. Professional mentors provide guidance on career choices, and mentored collaborations that many of our institutions have with alumnae, industry, and other institutions help students think about graduate school.Spelman College
At Spelman, a number of programs work to connect students with experts and researchers in the field (through the Visiting Lecturer Series) and to connect alumnae with pre-college students (through Mentoring Network activities)Barnard College
The Biology Department at Barnard has developed a series of seminars (Research Apprenticeship Seminar, the Biology Journal Club, and the Research Methods Seminar) for first- and second-year students to provide mentoring about engaging in research to small cohorts of students. Many seminar participants subsequently major in one of the sciences and complete research projects in faculty labs.
Intentionally formed groups of students that work together for a significant portion of a student's academic career can build community, provide support, and foster persistence in STEM, by giving students a ready-made group of STEM-minded peers. All of the STEM cohort programs run by the Capstone Institutions are closely mentored by STEM faculty (sometimes in collaboration with staff). These take a variety of forms, are organized at different times in a student's academic career, and provide a context within which to provide a variety of different supports. Cohort models are used at several of the Capstone Institutions. Open the chart below to see the characteristics of the various cohort programs at the different Capstone Institutions.
Informal interactions between faculty and students
Faculty-student interactions—whether in the classroom, in the lab, or in more informal settings—play a substantial role in students' engagement with STEM. Many Capstone Institutions seek out opportunities for informal interactions between faculty and students that connect and build a science community.
After enjoying unstructured conversations with faculty during their second-year science retreat, Grinnell students requested more opportunities for these informal interactions; Grinnell has since launched a lunch series for students and faculty.
The faculty who lead Swarthmore's Summer Scholars program continue to interact (formally and informally) with participating students during the remainder of their time at Swarthmore.
At Xavier an "open door policy" exists. Simply put, in addition to the university-required six office hours per week, students are encouraged to see their instructor or academic adviser any time that is convenient for them, assuming that the faculty member is available and present in his/her office. This approach has proven to form a trusting and long-lasting bond between the students and the faculty members.
Physical spaces devoted to specific STEM communities
Giving students a space of their own to collaborate and meet with each other can be a valuable mechanism to build community. This can be as simple as providing informal group work space within department "neighborhoods" or can include specific spaces that are dedicated to specific groups or programs. These spaces also promote community building within STEM departments.
Creation of space for students to gather informally and to study and work on science has been very important to our efforts to attract and retain students in STEM. Spaces in more open areas, near classrooms, attract students in their first two years, before they have strong major identity, and spaces more attached to departments seem to better support upper-level students.
A seminar room in the science complex has been reserved for the FOCUS cohort's use every night of the year. Students can gather there to work on homework or meet with peer mentors. A cabinet in the room contains resources for student use, including a textbook library and tea-making supplies. The room is now referred to by all students as "The FOCUS Room," even when it is used as a regular classroom during the day.
To promote a spirit of collaboration and a sense of community, the NCF Science Annex (the "new" science building) at Xavier has several physical spaces devoted to students. Sponsored by student clubs, organizations, or university funds, these range from study areas/lounges and tutoring centers to computer labs and vestibules for meetings, completing computer-based assignments, tutoring or just "hanging out."
Ownership and Authorship
Putting a student in the position of being the expert through giving presentations, collaborating on publications, mentoring other students, participating in outreach efforts, etc, helps to solidify students' sense of scientific identity by highlighting their accomplishments and expertise. It often helps with persistence by connecting a student to a broader community of scientists.
Swarthmore students who serve as counselors in the summer Science for Kids program consolidate their science understanding in ways that can serve as a scaffold to more effective work in the laboratory.
Hope regularly sends STEM students to regional and national conferences and celebrates undergraduate research across all divisions at its annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Creative Performance. This event is an opportunity for Hope College students to showcase the results of their research projects to the Hope community, prospective students, and Holland community members. In addition, their abstracts and research results can be published on Hope's Digital Commons.
At Smith, science students are provided a variety of opportunities to author and own their intellectual work, including through Smith's Women in Science annual publication highlighting the findings of our summer undergraduate research fellows; our annual research fair, Celebrating Collaborations, where student-faculty research is presented; and the fact that at least one undergraduate student is a co-author on a third of all science faculty members' peer-reviewed scholarship.
Students engage in research through internally and externally supported programs at Xavier. They present their findings at the on-campus Festival of Scholars Day and at regional/national level meetings. In addition to earning co-authorship on peer-reviewed publications, students can publish their findings in 'XULAneXUS', a refereed, online journal of the university.
Giving students the opportunity to engage in the practice of discovery, through participating in original research projects (in courses, in faculty-mentored research, and in Academic Civic Engagement projects), validates and sustains their identity as scientists. All institutions develop students' inquiry skills in their own fashion whether as part of courses in the curriculum or through summer research outside of the institution.
The FOCUS Sophomore Colloquium has been designed around an Academic Civic Engagement (ACE) model and gives students the opportunity to develop their identity in STEM disciplines while working on a year-long project with a community partner.
The Day1 programs all engage first-year students in research or design experiences from their first day on campus. Each Day1 program explores unique questions using science, mathematics and engineering techniques. Working with faculty and upper-level students, first-year students cover their first-year course requirements while engaging with real-world problems. Some Day1 programs also have a residential component, which facilitates students building community from their first day on campus.
The Summer Research Institute, which developed from the HHMI-funded Research Internship program, supports 120 students engaged in summer research both on-campus and off-campus. Student researchers often continue working during the subsequent academic year, and many are authors on papers or meeting presentations about their research.