Undergraduate Science Education Grants to Research Universities (2014)

University of California-Santa Barbara

The BioMentors Program addresses the challenge to increase success and retention in STEM majors, particularly for those students from disadvantaged backgrounds. A recent longitudinal analysis of students who enter UCSB intending to major in Biological Sciences revealed that, similar to national averages, students identified as underrepresented minorities or from low income backgrounds switched out of the major at a higher rate than nondisadvantaged students. Current research indicates that persistence in STEM is achieved through providing students with research experiences, developing learning communities, and using active learning strategies in lecture courses. Currently we offer an authentic research experience to all ~1000 students in the Introductory Biology class. In this proposal we focus on developing the latter two pieces of the "persistence framework" outlined by Graham and colleagues (2013, Science 341: 1455-1456).
Our aim is to engage with students early and often as they progress through the core preparatory courses in the pre-Biology major. BioMentors focuses on obvious motivational and academic challenges to our majors. First, entering freshman biology majors experience minimal mentoring and engagement with biology faculty, and they have no exposure to biology courses until the sophomore year. Second, large, core lecture courses are not complemented by small group discussion sections and thus there is a minimal amount of structured activities and active learning in these courses. The BioMentors Program has three main components: (1) Bio Mentoring and Engagement - a year-long peer-mentoring course for first year pre-Biology students that focuses on developing study skills and problem solving and creates motivated, confident learning groups; (2) Enhanced Introductory Biology courses that employ active learning strategies and guided mentoring sessions for the learning groups; and (3) Development of science education and research courses complemented by a seminar series that will serve to educate and train undergraduate Learning Assistants, graduate student Teaching Assistants, postdoctoral scholars, and faculty. Further, in order to engage first and second year students effectively, we will provide a designated physical space that facilitates active learning. The BioMentors Program will create a Learning Community at UCSB that will have an effect not only in the Biological Sciences, but across all STEM disciplines. Each component of BioMentors is approached from the perspective that it will be a sustainable institutional program if successful. We will compare the learning outcomes (e.g. academic achievement, completion of a degree in STEM) of the students who participate in the learning group programs as compared to matched control groups in order to assess the success of the program. Our hypothesis is that creation of a learning community among our first and second year biology students coupled with guided mentoring and implementation of active learning practices into our courses will lead to greater academic achievement and persistence in a STEM major for all students and especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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Joel Rothman, Ph.D.
University of California-Santa Barbara
Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology

Santa Barbara, CA 93106-0001

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