With funding from the HHMI 2014 Science Education Program the College of William and Mary will implement a bold program designed to ensure that students who profess an interest in a science or mathematics, regardless of their particular ethnic, social, or academic backgrounds, develop the knowledge, confidence, and above all, the desire to persist and succeed. National statistics indicate that well over half of the students who begin college intending to major in science or mathematics fail to complete a STEM degree. This attrition rate is even more dramatic for students who are members of groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences, including students of color, first generation college students, handicapped students, and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The College of William and Mary's HHMI funding will therefore focus on ensuring that students who are from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields not only complete STEM degrees, but do so with strong academic credentials and post-graduate outcomes. To develop the proposed initiatives we conducted a comprehensive, de novo analysis of student outcomes, tracking students from the point they confirmed attendance at William and Mary through post-graduate activities with the goal of precisely determining the demographics of who abandoned STEM majors and exactly when we lost them. Enlisting a diverse group of faculty and staff, our team asked the more important and difficult question of why we were losing particular groups of students at particular junctures, and which, if any, of the current interventions were successful.
Using the baseline data from this analysis and the wealth of published literature, the College of William and Mary will establish the Wren Scholars Program to implement an integrated set of five initiatives focused on attracting, engaging, and mentoring all incoming students from underrepresented backgrounds contemplating STEM majors. First, William and Mary's science faculty will mentor approximately 40 new Wren Scholars each year and offer them an array of research experiences early in their college careers. The program is designed to build a strong cohort of underrepresented students who meet regularly as a group for workshops and discussions on academic resources and various STEM-related topics, and who will participate in the following four initiatives. In order to prepare for the rigor and demands of their introductory science courses, students can take a specially-designed course such as the Neurobiology of Learning or Topics in Contemporary Science during a Pre-Freshmen Transition Program in the summer prior to matriculation. Participating students will also have the opportunity to take research-based freshman lab courses patterned on the HHMI SEA-PHAGES Program in place of the standard introductory biology lab; these will introduce them to the excitement of research and foster ongoing mentoring relationships with faculty members. A Summer Research Fellowship Program for rising sophomores and juniors will allow students to continue mentored research in faculty laboratories; in addition this summer program will entail participation in workshops on quantitative and computational skills in life science research. Finally, a Summer Chemistry Scholarship Program will allow Wren Scholars to take introductory chemistry following their freshman year; past data has shown that this led to significantly better outcomes and higher STEM retention rates. Indicative of the institutional commitment, a Provost-appointed interdisciplinary STEM Persistence Committee consisting of both administrators and faculty members will actively promote the goals of this grant, meeting on a regular basis to discuss best practices and new ideas from a diversity of perspectives.

For More Information

Margaret Saha, Ph.D.
College of William and Mary
Biology Department
540 Landrum Drive
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
757/221-2407
mssaha@wm.edu

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