Understanding Retention Pathways and Bottlenecks of STEM Majors: Implications for Student Success
AuthorElliot, William S.
Greenwood, Eric S.
Gentle, Adrian P.
Chan Hilton, Amy B.
Blunt, Shelly B.
AffiliationUniversity of Southern Indiana
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)
TitleUnderstanding Retention Pathways and Bottlenecks of STEM Majors: Implications for Student Success
MetadataShow full item record
The goals of this project are to increase faculty member's knowledge about evidence-based student retention, instructional best practices, and understanding bottlenecks and other factors impeding student progress in STEM at University of Southern Indiana (USI). In particular, hands-on experiences through group work and engaging students with early undergraduate research contribute significantly to student learning. To accomplish these goals, a working group consisting of faculty members from across the Pott College of Science, Engineering, and Education initiated discussions in Fall 2017 to examine retention factors and bottlenecks. In order to support these activities, the working group secured an Innovation Grant through the Pott College with the goal of developing individualized projects focusing on increasing retention of STEM majors and improving student learning. To assist with our shared efforts, reference materials are made available through SharePoint, Trello is used to document developing hypotheses and activities of the working group, and in-person meetings are held at least once a month to discuss the readings and to share updates on individualized projects.
Initially, a systems map was created by the working group to analyze retention pathways of STEM majors at USI. Systems thinking is an effective way to understand the complexity of a topic, identify links among themes, and discover potential individualized research directions. Each working group member then created their own systems map to better constrain their specific area of interest. Research projects that originated from this process include: (1) comparing student attitudes towards group work implementations in introductory Physics courses; (2) evaluating the effectiveness of Pre-Calculus as a preparation for college-level Calculus; (3) exploring the impact of course repeats on student success in the Pott College; (4) increasing retention rates of STEM majors through an early undergraduate research program; and (5) using a faculty learning community and systems mapping to engage faculty members with pedagogical research. Selected student learning outcomes of these projects include: (1) improved comprehension and problem solving skills through group work and active learning, and (2) enriched student engagement through early undergraduate research. Furthermore, faculty members supported one another through the process of Institutional Research Board (IRB) training, the IRB approval process, and securing student data from the Office of Planning, Research, and Assessment.
The results from this project will support longer-term retention initiatives and inform strategies to improve student success and retention of STEM majors in the Pott College at USI. In addition, these projects will better position the Pott College to seek external funding (such as National Science Foundation S-STEM program or Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive Excellence program) to support student retention efforts. Finally, classroom strategies that result in improved student learning will be expanded to other sections of introductory courses in mathematics and physics.