Our goal is to increase retention of underrepresented students in STEM by creating a sustaining multi-level learning community that uses evidence based methods that foster formation of a scientific identity and that empower students to learn to learn in STEM disciplines. This community will support students as they navigate an early-stage STEM curriculum that has been redesigned using collaborative problem solving and authentic inquiry to engage students in the excitement of scientific discovery.

We have an opportunity to make strong gains in STEM retention for all students because Brown has a vibrant and diverse student body: 52% of our students are women, and 29% of our students are from underrepresented minority groups. Brown also has an open curriculum, which challenges students to craft their own curriculum with guidance from advisors, peers, and mentors.

The focus of our program is to optimize key early STEM courses.

We will integrate multiple curricular initiatives in key STEM gateway courses that use proven strategies to engage students in the excitement of scientific discovery. Calculus, Chemistry, and Genetics courses will be modified to facilitate collaborative problem solving. In Chemistry, a modification of our introductory course sequence will provide students who lack sufficient background in chemistry and/or mathematics to prepare for Organic chemistry using a proven collaborative problem solving approach. In Physics, new laboratories will be designed that capture student interest in Physics by applying basic physical principles to neuroscience. We will develop authentic inquiry-based laboratories in two life sciences courses: Biochemistry and The Plant Organism. These new laboratory courses will be collaborative and students will test novel hypotheses of their own design as they gain critical technical competencies. To do this, we will create new undergraduate research space that facilitates collaboration and the freedom to work with peers on research problems. In each of these courses, we will work to build competency in mathematics and to empower students to apply mathematics across STEM disciplines. We will also take advantage of Brown's open curriculum to identify and build linkages between STEM and humanities courses to enable students to construct powerful STEM literacy by placing STEM concepts into other contexts.

This effort will take place in the context of a commitment on the part of Brown University to sustain efforts that began with previous support from the HHMI.

We will sustain and broaden the successful Brown-HHMI Summer Scholars program that has been running for four years with support from our 2010 HHMI award. This program has provided intense (full time for 10 weeks) early-career collaborative research experience for 130 undergraduates so far. Brown has committed to support this program going forward and it will be run as a subset of the very successful Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award (UTRA) program. The Brown-HHMI Summer Scholars program was limited to the life sciences the new Brown-supported program will be expanded to all STEM disciplines.

Brown University has also committed to support the previously HHMI-supported Catalyst program. The restructured program will be expanded to include more students and will be embedded in learning-living communities that support students throughout the academic year. Students will benefit from a multi-level community of mentors who will sustain these students as they gain an identity as practitioners of STEM disciplines.

Our project will assess the effectiveness of each of the curricular initiatives to determine whether they are successful at enhancing learning and retention in STEM disciplines. Brown is committed to sustaining these initiatives so that we can develop students who will become leaders in academic and industrial scientific research.

For More Information

Mark Johnson, Ph.D.
Brown University
MCB Department
Box GL-160
Providence, RI 02912-9127

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