NSF Includes. FIRST TWO: Improving STEM persistence in the first two years of college.
Developing and maintaining a diverse, innovative workforce in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (known as STEM) is critical to American competitiveness in the world, but national surveys report a current and future shortage of highly qualified STEM professionals in the US. One problem creating this shortage is that more than half of all college students who declare a major in STEM fields drop out or change their majors in the first two years of their post-secondary education. This problem is particularly acute for first generation college students. If we could increase the STEM degree completion rate by just 25%, we would make up 75% of the additional workforce needed over the next decade.
Our project aims to increase the STEM persistence of first generation college students and focuses on rural students in West Virginia. Project partners including scientists from National Labs, college faculty, local school system staff, informal educators, State Department of Education officials, and West Virginia college students will collaborate to develop summer and academic year activities that support young undergraduates majoring in STEM. Activities that we will pilot include early opportunities to do science research, academic year courses that develop science, math and communication skills, and the formation of Hometown STEM Ambassadors; undergraduate STEM students that encourage younger students back in their hometown schools. We will study the impact of these activities on students' persistence in STEM majors.
Our Project is called FIRST TWO: Improving STEM Persistence in the First Two Years of College (FIRST TWO).
During the Development Launch Project, partners will create and pilot components of two courses that will confer college credit to students in two and four year schools. Each course will have as its center piece a research and development internship. By the end of the Project Development Pilot, FIRST TWO course modules will be integrated into courses the State, and be transferable between community colleges and four-year schools.
An innovative component of FIRST TWO is the creation of Hometown STEM ambassadors--students who participate in both courses will be prepared to mentor their peers, and also conduct outreach in their home school districts. They will make presentations to hometown K-12 students, and will discuss STEM college readiness issues with local education leaders. We believe reconnecting post-secondary students with their home communities and providing place-based relevance to their STEM education will have a positive impact on their persistence, as well as the added benefit of encouraging K-12 students to envision themselves as future STEM professionals.
FIRST TWO will:
- integrate early experience in STEM internships, online communities of practice and STEM skills development into a discovery-based "principles of research and development" college seminar for first year students;
- sustain engagement through a second service learning course, called STEM Leadership that will develop communication and mentoring skills and produce peer mentors who will mentor younger students, join in the efforts to change the STEM education experience at their schools, and conduct outreach in their hometown communities during the students? second year and third years.
- secure state-wide adoption and transferability of these courses, or course materials, and ultimately scale the program across the Appalachian region and to other states with large rural student populations.
- collaborate with National Labs to determine the feasibility of a National STEM Persistence Alliance partnering National Lab internship programs with 2 and 4-year schools who serve FGC students.
Finally, there are many studies that inquire into the factors that correlate with post-secondary retention in general, and with STEM attrition specifically but few that focus on rural students. FIRST TWO will fully articulate a rigorous educational research project aimed at advancing understanding of the factors affecting rural students' entry into and persistence in STEM career pathways. This research will study the impact FIRST TWO program components make on rural FGC students' persistence in STEM majors. Instruments will be developed and validated that test the components proposed in FIRST TWO interventions. As we scale the program to a larger Alliance, so will the research study scale, providing a unique opportunity to inform the education community about the rural students' experience.
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