The College of Arts & Sciences is committed to the success of students in the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). This includes finding ways to recruit, train, and graduate more STEM students. There are several outstanding proposals from investigators in A&S to this end, some of which focus in particular on recruitment and retention of underrepresented STEM students. Some examples of current sponsored projects with a STEM focus are described below.
PRIMES (Partnership for Retention Improvement in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science)
PRIMES is a cross-college project funded by the NSF-STEP program (DUE-1068301) and led by co-PIs Dr. Christine Rich and Dr. Thomas Tretter. PRIMES’ goal is to increase by 25% the number of baccalaureate degrees awarded in STEM based strategies for improving retention of intended majors in 9 participating STEM departments:
- Transform STEM teaching and learning in our introductory courses by establishing credit-bearing Practicum courses that train and support Undergraduate Teaching Assistants (UTAs) as the linchpin for integrating best practices in introductory STEM offerings; and
- Increase faculty-student interactions through community-building activities that are known to increase a sense of STEM identity, thereby positively impacting persistence to degree.
Implementation progress includes the successful development and institutionalization of 9 discipline-specific Practicum courses across 2 Colleges uniting the 9 participating departments. The Practicum is an experiential course wherein the UTAs are trained and supported by PRIMES mentoring faculty via common workshop training, periodic seminars, and Blackboard blogging. These UTAs then act as peer mentors in their home departments by leading traditional recitation and laboratory sections or in unique peer-assisted learning settings. Growth of this UTA strand is very promising: in Year 1 there were 48 UTAs from 7 departments in the project; in Year 2 that number jumped to 140 UTAs. PRIMES is very much a research project in that it is actively investigating the impacts on and by UTAs and identifying those factors data show could improve STEM retention. A number of IRB-approved studies are underway. One recently concluded study of UTA impacts on Chem 201 student academic performance, fostering STEM identity, and continuation into Chem 202 comprised the dissertation of a Science Education doctoral student. Several conference presentations have already been made to disseminate emerging results.
Research Experiences in Chemistry and Structural Biology
Research Experiences in Chemistry and Structural Biology is a NSF-REU project residing in the Chemistry Department and led by PI Dr. Aleeta Powe. The ten-week summer program offers research and scientific writing experience, professional development, industrial site visits, and career information about the myriad arenas that encompass the modern chemical sciences. The main goal of the program is to have undergraduate students experience science research as a way to encourage those students to pursue careers in the chemical sciences. Currently in its second year, the project has demonstrated success in its goal of attracting women and under-represented groups in chemistry. In Year 1, all 10 stipends were awarded with 50% of participants qualifying as underrepresented minorities (5 women, 1 African-American). In year 2, 60% of the participants qualified as recognized minorities in STEM, including 3 African-Americans and 5 women. Another positive outcome is that there is increasing success recruiting REU students from our regional HBCUs.
Research Experiences in Plant Science at UofL
A second NSF-REU project, Research Experiences in Plant Science at UofL, is in its first year with the UofL Biology Department under the leadership of PI Dr. Mark Running. Prior to his arrival at UofL, Dr. Running served as the PI and co-director of the NSF-funded Danforth Center Undergraduate Internship Program. His REU program provides an opportunity for undergraduates to do significant research in the areas of plant and life sciences and to participate in other educational and training activities. Dr. Running’s extensive recruiting efforts have resulted in a high degree of participation from students from underrepresented groups and students from undergraduate institutions with fewer research opportunities. The program has been successful in placement of such students into top Ph.D. programs. In its first year at UofL, over 50% of the participants are minority students, with 66% being from undergraduate institutions with limited research opportunities.
Groundwork Education in Mathematics & Science (GEMS)
GEMS, funded in 2006 under the NSF-GK-12 program as a continuing project (DUE-063879), and originally as a Track I project (DUE-037860), concluded in 2010 after 7 years under the leadership of co-PI Dr. Christine Rich and co-PI Dr. Thomas Tretter . GEMS focused on assisting the Jefferson County Public Schools with implementation of newly adopted inquiry-based K-8 curricular materials. Graduate GK-12 Fellows from science, engineering, and mathematics were paired with K-8 teachers in the classroom where they served as content resources and role models. A number of former GK-12 Fellows elected to continue their work as assistant professors in post-secondary institutions. An even greater number of GEMS teachers went on to assume leadership positions in the K-12 district. of our project include a body of formative assessment pieces that the K-12 District uses in appropriate professional development workshops and archives for practicing teachers on their online site.