Building Community

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.


Mentoring 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.
Carleton College
All members of the FOCUS cohort are assigned peer mentors (also FOCUS students) for all of their 100- and 200- level STEM courses, and some 300-level courses, while at Carleton.
Swarthmore College
Academic peer mentoring programs support Swarthmore students in introductory science courses to develop their skills and confidence. Evaluation of these programs shows increasing success, especially in their impact on persistence of students from groups historically underrepresented in STEM.
Smith College
The AEMES Peer Mentoring program is available to all first-year science students, with special efforts to invite first-year students of color and first-generation students.

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.

Cohort programs

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.

Bryn Mawr College | Carleton College | CUNY Hunter College | Smith College | Spelman College | Xavier University

Characteristics of Capstone Cohort Programs
Name of Cohort ProgramSummer BridgeRecruitment/Selection MechanismOpportunities for research (summer and/or academic year)Curricular ComponentMentored bySize of cohortFunded byPeer Mentoring Component
Bryn MawrSTEM PosseYesIn conjunction with the Posse Foundation, prior to first year.Yes, through regular campus programs.Faculty10 per yearHHMI, CollegeNo
CarletonFocusing on Cultivating Scientists (FOCUS)NoIn conjunction with the Admissions Department prior to first year.Sophomore year FOCUS Colloquium is a year-long ACE/research projectYes. 2.5 classes worth of credit during first and second year.Faculty16 per yearHHMI, NSF, CollegePeer mentors from FOCUS assigned in all STEM courses in which FOCUS students enroll.
CarletonSummer Science FellowsNoStudents apply in their first or sophomore year.Cohort provides 2 summers of research stipend support, to be used on or off campus, as well as matching students to research projects as needed. Academic year credit is also available for on-campus research.Yes. 0.33 class in the term before and after the summer research experience.Faculty4 - 5 per year.HHMI, NSF, CollegeWithin the cohort, students in their second year of research mentor those in their first year.
GrinnellGrinnell Science ProjectYesStudents who indicated interest in majoring in a science in their application and are from under represented groups are invited prior to first year.Yes, through regular campus programs.Yes. all intro science courses have been revised to be more inquiry-driven with modern pedagogies.Faculty and StaffUp to 50 per yearNSF, HHMI, The Lilly Foundation, CollegeEstablishment of our science learning center coordinates peer mentoring for Biology, Chemistry & Physics. Our math learning lab coordinates tutoring/mentoring for Math and Statistics.
HopeDay1: Research CommunitiesYesAll prospective STEM students are invited prior to first year.All Day1: Watershed participants, as rising sophomores, have the opportunity to engage in faculty mentored research experiences.Yes. The Day1 programs are all built around academic programsFaculty and StaffFour day1 programs have capacity of 20 students, the other program is open to all first year studentsHope and The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, CollegeSeparate program (FACES), open to all underrepresented groups in STEM.
HunterHunter Summer Research InternsNoStudents apply.Depending on funding suport some students selected from applications to spend 8-10 weeks at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole.NoFaculty6 every 2 yearsHHMINo
HunterHunter/HHMI Undergraduate ScholarsNoStudents apply.Hunter/HHMI Undergraduate Scholars. 6 undergraduates selected from applications to spend their junior and senior years in a faculty mentor's research lab working on a research project during the academic year and possibly during the summer.NoFaculty and Staff6 per yearHHMINo
SmithSTEM PosseYesIn conjunction with the Posse Foundation, prior to first year.They are eligible for campus summer research fellows program as well as other credit-bearing options for conducting research through the special studies and honors programs for science students.Faculty10 per yearCollegePosse students receive peer mentors
SmithAEMES ScholarsNoThe Admissions Office and Mentoring Committee recruit from the admitted student pool prior to first year.Paid work in a research lab for the first two years. Scholars are also eligible for Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow funding as well as to receive stipends during the academic year.Yes. AEMES Scholars take a 2-credit applied learning strategies course in the fall of their first year. This same course is open to all students in the spring semester.Faculty and Staff20 per yearHHMI, Dreyfus Foundation, Hearst Foundation, Janet McKinley Fund of Smith College, CollegeAll AEMES Scholars are paired with a peer mentor.
SpelmanSpelman Mentored and Research Trained (SMART)NoStudents apply.Academic year research opportunities.The First-Year Cohort meets bi-monthly with Co-Director for Research Seminars. Sophomore and Junior Cohorts meet monthly to talk about their research.Faculty7 per yearHHMINo
XavierBuilding Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) Scholar ProgramNoStudents apply. Different levels of the program have different requirements.The BUILD first and second years generally work on pilot projects and have th eoption of applying to become Scholars (juniors and seniors) but selection is not guaranteed. BUILD Scholars conduct research for two academic years (mostly on campus) and for two summers off campus.The BUILD Scholars take Research Ethics, Science Communication and Scientific and Technical Writing courses.FacultyBUILD first and second-years: 100 per year. BUILD Trainees and Scholars:18-20 per year.NIHNo
XavierLS-LAMP (Louis Stokes Louisiana Alliance for Minority Participation)NoStudents are recommended to a selection committee during sophomore through senior year.Research required through academic semesters. Over summers, students assisted in receiving off-campus summer opportunities.NoFaculty8-10 per yearNSFNo
XavierMARC (Minority Access to Research Careers) and RISE (Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement)NoStudents apply as first-years, sophomores, or juniors.RISE students receive hourly wages during the academic year and full time pay during summers for research. MARC students receive a stipend 12 months out of the year and also a partial scholarship.Both MARC and RISE students take two courses; one on Responsible Conduct in Research and one on Technical Writing.FacultyRISE: 12 per year. MARC 10 per year.NIHNo

Common elements of cohort programs at Capstone Institutions.
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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.

Grinnell College
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.
Swarthmore College
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.
Xavier University of Louisiana
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.

Grinnell College

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.

Carleton College
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.
Xavier University of Louisiana
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 College
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 College
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.
Smith College
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.
Xavier University of Louisiana

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.

Doing STEM

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.

Carleton College
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.
Hope College
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.
Barnard College
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.