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Iowa State University, a land-grant institution of over 33,000 students, proposes to address the national need for increased talent in STEM through our project: Engage to Excel (E2E). Our objectives are to:
1) Increase retention of 1st-year STEM majors for all ethnicities;
2) Increase the transition from Undeclared /Open Option students to STEM majors;
3) Increase student ability to apply and transfer mathematics knowledge; and
4) Improve students' science process skills.

Key is to build a sense of community amongst students while they are developing the skills, aptitudes and self-vision where they see themselves as scientists. Our work will focus on four reinforcing elements.

Element I: Freshmen Research Initiative (FRI) in Lab Courses: we will add research projects into freshmen Learning Communities and their connected credit-bearing lab courses. For example in physics, chemistry and biology lab courses that have large freshmen enrollments, a research stream in one section would have student teams design their own experiments to explore ideas generated within the topic of the course. Other research streams might be teams of students all enrolling in research credits and working as a large group on a faculty research project, or using citizen science-based tools like Zooniverse. We are extending Zooniverse with a new weather-based activity. A third type of research stream would be contained within a learning community seminar course. By embedding these projects into freshmen courses and learning communities more students will be able to participate in science research than the traditional model of a few students working in faculty labs.

Element II: Open Option Transition to STEM: we will target the 500+ first-year students who are undeclared majors or express interdisciplinary interests, but are unaware of opportunities in STEM-related studies. Building on high student interest in sustainability, E2E will infuse aspects of this topic in student learning communities, courses with high enrollments of undeclared majors, as well as adding sustainability research projects into FRI (Element I).

Element III: Math conceptual knowledge and transfer of math to STEM courses: we will adapt best practices in pre-calculus and calculus to impact the 4,000+ students who take these courses annually. Teams of faculty in math, physical sciences, and engineering will reduce the scope of the syllabi to provide more in-class time for students to collaborate on real-life applications, explore new concepts, and transfer skills across disciplines.

Element IV: Early Intervention: we will use data analytics to build a predictive model of indicators of STEM attrition, i.e. which students are off track and are at risk for leaving a STEM major. Based on a student's risk profile, advisors can target individualized interventions to help each student succeed.

E2E will impact 11,000 students over the five-year period and result in the modification of 15 courses. Our change model is built on research that shows that education improvement can be achieved through Faculty Learning Communities that provide time and space for faculty to plan and implement reforms. Throughout the project, operational costs for the courses are kept at the same or lower level than current costs, hence the reforms are sustainable after the grant period ends.

For More Information

Craig Ogilvie, Ph.D.
Iowa State University
Physics and Astronomy
A327 Zaffarrano
Ames, IA 50011-0002


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