Community Building Activities to Support Retention

It has been argued in literature that the weak retention in STEM disciplines in in part due to inadequate levels of academic and social support.  Arguably then, one of the keys to retention and academic success is to develop a students sense of belonging to not only the academic unit and college, but also to the university community as a whole.  Based on these ideas, we have created a two-tiered community-building plan for improving undergraduate STEM retention at the University of Louisville. The multi-level nature of the proposed activities is based on our experience that social interactions at the level of academic unit are often influenced not only by the culture prevalent within the academic discipline itself, but also by students’ differing personal goals and desires in that unit. We believe that these differences among STEM departments are unique and merit tailoring activities for each discipline or sub-group. Hence, a ‘one size fits all’ approach to community building would be unlikely to produce the desired impact. Therefor, one tier serves the entire UofL STEM undergraduate community, while the other targets individual STEM disciplines and under-represented groups (students of color, gender specific, etc.)

Community Building by discipline and sub-group

It has been suggested in the literature that retention improvement should start by "fostering the development of student affinity groups" to create "communal potential" (JM Braxton et al 2007).  To facilitate the development of this "communal potential," PRIMES helps student organizations develop events focused on stimulating interactions between early career STEM student and their peers and faculty. By establishing clearly identified objectives for each event, assessment tools can be created to provide meaningful feedback to the organization as part of their own continual improvement strategies.  The style of the events vary greatly based not only on the specific discipline, but also on the specific focus group for which the event is developed. A list of the events that have been funded thus far can be found here.

Community Building across the STEM disciplines

While discipline based community building is important to the development of a students STEM identity, integrating students into the larger campus STEM community helps to enhance cross-disciplinary networking between students and faculty.  These events are larger in scope and cover multiple activities simultaneously.  Two of these events have been held so far: The PRIMES Puzzle Hunt and Nerds Under the Stars.  Our next event, Nerds on Ice, will be held on January 29th, 2015.  Additional events are currently being planned.