The University of South Florida (USF) enrolls an average of 1,500 - 1,800 highly diverse incoming FTIC students in STEM disciplines, and produces the second largest number of STEM graduates in the state. However, the rate of persistence of these STEM majors is 33% and this is consistent with other universities across the nation. Using data from a detailed analysis of STEM majors who left USF or graduated with a non-STEM degree, the research team identified several areas during the student's progression to the degree that will be strategically modified to impact higher levels of academic success and persistence. The highly diverse biology and biomedical science majors will be the major target population because they represent ~65% of all incoming FTIC STEM majors. Beginning in summer 2015, USF will deliver a one-week residential summer STEM Academy experience to STEM majors who are entering the university without AP/IB math credit and who will be taking the algebra or pre-calculus sequence through the SMART lab pedagogy. Priority will be given to first-generation college students from this group. At scale, the Academy will host up to 480 students (20 sections of 24 students each). Each group of 24 students will be directed by a senior level STEM graduate student or postdoctoral scholar and three undergraduate peer mentors, who in years 2-5 of the program may be former graduates from the Academy. This 6:1 ratio will provide the entering students immediate connection to peers and individualized attention as they enter the university. During the five years of the initiative, the STEM Academy will provide an enhanced learning environment for 1,800 first year students, and also provide professional development training for 71 graduate students/postdocs and 225 undergraduate peer mentors. Students graduating from the STEM Academy will: i) Understand and engage in the SMART lab math pedagogy and participate in sample mathematics exercises, ii) Develop time management and study skills that will assist in STEM courses, iii) Enhance writing skills through creating a resume and a portfolio of credentials, iv) Participate in an quantitative hands-on laboratory assay and calculate unknowns, v) Develop a comprehensive Action Plan for engaging in Undergraduate Research, vi) Participate in a STEM research lab group meeting and engage in 'The Conversation of Research' with faculty, graduate students and peers and vii) Network and develop connections with peers, USF research faculty, graduate students and undergraduate researchers and viii) Understand the pathway to graduate school and various STEM careers. To allow the STEM Academy graduates to remain connected to each other and take advantage of university resources during their first year on campus, all Academy participants who will be staying in the residence halls will have the opportunity to be a part of the STEM Academy Living Learning Community (LLC). This LLC will provide access to continued enrichment programming, mentoring and resources. It is anticipated that the impact of these innovative reforms will be an increase in the persistence of majors graduating in STEM, increased biological and research competencies and higher levels of post-baccalaureate matriculation. The professional development and mentorship opportunities will also be critical in the credentialing and job readiness of the STEM grad students and postdocs who serve the Academy. A rigorous evaluation plan includes analysis of: i) academic progression and persistence of STEM Academy participants in comparison to the general STEM population, ii) the level of engagement in and attainment of defined competencies in research for STEM Academy participants, and iii) novel methods of evaluation to address why students leave the STEM majors. A multi-disciplinary leadership team and Advisory Council will provide oversight to the program and many activities are leveraged with current practices to assure sustainability.

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Richard Pollenz, PhD
University of South Florida
4202 E Fowler Avenue
LIB 210
Tampa, FL 33620-6100


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