Using Societal Issues to Recruit and Retain STEM Students
Students often feel a strong tie to their home communities/cities. Students may feel that there are challenges that they cannot meet when they enter STEM fields like the potential of having to move far away to find a job or interesting research areas. Many URM, first generation, and non-traditional students are tied to their communities in ways that traditional students are not. They may have jobs, families, pressures to get a good job to support their extended families, other commitments, that keep them connected to specific places. By making learning relevant to their home communities (including the community surrounding campus), faculty can help to reduce the perceived challenges and can help attract these students.
Societal Issues Promote Self-Efficacy, Establish Relevance, and Drive Motivation
Making engagement with society a fundamental and intentional part of high quality learning as well as involving projects in a social context allows students learn in their own cultural context provides a motivation for and improves the quality of learning. Incorporating societal issues into instruction also encourages and provides mechanisms for students to see themselves as key players in learning and projects that are relevant to their lives, improves their sense of self-efficacy. Further, featuring social projects as part of the institutional mission helps students to see themselves as part of efforts which they value and motivates them to engage. There is also a lot of evidence that societally relevant curriculum especially supports students with diverse identities that want to make sure that their work and lives contributes positively to society.
High Impact Practices
There is substantial evidence that students do better (in terms of learning and persistence) with high impact practices, learning in a social context and service learning and that is particularly true of underrepresented minority, first-generation, transfer, and low-income students. (G Kuh, High Impact Practices). The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) identified five high impact practices (NSSE 2016):
- Learning Communities
- Service Learning or other courses with a community-based project component
- Study Abroad Experiences
- Internships Capstone courses or culminating senior experiences
- Research with a faculty member
A 2013 AAC&U report, using NSSE data from 25,336 students at 38 institutions across state higher education systems in California, Oregon, and Wisconsin, found that there was a general positive upward trend in perceived learning gains with the number of high impact practices the study group participated in, suggesting that encouraging students to do multiple high impact practices is beneficial to their learning among these high impact practices. In addition, it found that service learning and student-faculty research experiences showed the highest average perceived learning gains of the high impact practices; these two practices are explored in a bit more detail below. (Finley and McNair, 2013).
Service learning projects can be implemented in a variety of ways and can be smaller projects that are a part of a course, the main focus of or culminating project of a course, or as a capstone project for a degree program. These projects not only provide a hands-on way for students to apply their classroom knowledge to solving real-world problems, but also have the benefit of bridging students with the local community to make a positive impact. Workshop participants offered the following advice for setting up service learning projects:
- Work with colleagues to develop a document that lays out all the requirements for a service capstone.