STEM Pioneers: A 3-year pilot study to increase science literacy and STEM enrollment among first-year first-generation students

Project Details


This project will address the barriers that first-generation students experience in college. There is a critical need to expand the existing research to better understand how first-time, first-generation students will be enabled to enter and succeed as STEM majors. The project is unique in that it will integrate several interconnected, research-based, effective practices aimed at the specific needs of first-generation students in the sciences. Specifically the project will (1) convene a group of science professors who will work together to design and teach a science literacy course aimed at teaching not just what science is, but also why it matters to society; (2) create a group of peer mentors and mentoring activities aimed at fostering a supportive environment within which first-generation students can express their needs and have them be addressed; and (3) work with the campus advising office to select students to participate in the program and to provide additional support services such as extensive career counseling. Participants in each of these three groups will also meet with each other on a continual basis to monitor student success and the success of the different approaches taken.

The program that is envisioned has two specific objectives: (1) to increase science literacy of undeclared first-generation, first-year college students and (2) to encourage and enable students to select and successfully embark on STEM majors at the university. This project will develop a three-pronged approach that transforms and blends existing interventions into a sustained, integrative and organized structure to address the broad scope of needs of first-generation students. The first prong is a professional learning community (PLC) of faculty from a variety of science majors (biology, chemistry, math, physics, computer science, and earth and environmental science) and from English. The PLC will work together to create and teach a two-semester science literacy course for the selected first-generation students. This course will follow a broad topic in science such as global climate change or water availability and study it from the perspectives of the different scientific disciplines of the PLC faculty. Students will be guided in developing a research project on this topic. The second prong places selected first-generation students in student learning communities (SLC) where they take the same courses together. A goal of the SLC will be to create shared experiences and bonding between the students and faculty. The third prong focuses on advising and mentoring, and will be accomplished by employing professional advisors, peer mentors, and organizing advising sessions that will cover topics ranging from course and major selection to career opportunities. A framework will be established to allow constant interaction between all three of these components. Very important to the success of this project will be an assessment that will look at the success of each component individually and as a whole. A goal will be to figure out how to successfully increase first-generation students' recruitment into the sciences and enhance their academic and professional success once they have chosen a science major. A well-qualified evaluator and statistical consultant will assess the project through the use of a comparison group.

Effective start/end date1/10/1630/09/21


  • National Science Foundation: $300,000.00


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