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Rice University is a research-intensive university where more than 60% of students pursue STEM degrees. Our faculty have a strong track record of incorporating inquiry-based methods in introductory STEM courses, and we engage ~60% of our students in undergraduate research. As a result, retention of STEM students at Rice is well above the national average. Despite these efforts, ~25% of students who enter Rice intending to pursue engineering and 40% of students who enter intending to pursue science do not graduate in STEM; moreover, less than 50% of students from under-represented groups persist in STEM, and rates are lower for women from under-represented groups.
Over the last 8 years with support from HHMI, we implemented a novel program that teaches undergraduates from all majors to use the engineering design process to solve global health challenges posed by physicians working in low-resource settings. The curriculum has been institutionalized at Rice as a minor in Global Health Technologies (GLHT), engaging more than 10% of all Rice undergraduates in its classes. GLHT students work to solve open-ended challenges beginning in the freshman year, and the curriculum continues this engagement throughout their entire undergraduate experience, culminating in a year-long capstone design experience. GLHT students at all levels are encouraged to participate in independent research and summer internships. Our assessment shows that GLHT students persist in STEM at significantly higher rates than the overall STEM cohort at Rice; moreover, a higher fraction of GLHT students go on to pursue graduate education and careers in STEM than the overall STEM cohort. The program has been recognized as a national model for inquiry-based education by Science magazine and the National Academy of Engineering.
Building on this success, the goal of this proposal is to initiate institutional change at Rice to improve diversity and persistence of STEM students. To achieve this goal, we propose to systematically apply the proven framework of the GLHT model to undergraduate education throughout the Schools of Science and Engineering. We will implement a series of project-based STEM courses for students intending to major in three large degree programs (Bioengineering, Biochemistry & Cell Biology and Chemistry) that together account for ~40% of all STEM degree recipients at Rice in which:
(1) Freshmen students deepen their interest in and commitment to STEM by immediately engaging in solving authentic, client-driven, open-ended scientific and engineering challenges;
(2) Sophomore and junior students deepen their skills and interests through courses that engage them in open-ended, interdisciplinary projects;
(3) Students have mentored opportunities and support to participate in independent research activities throughout the curriculum as well as capstone design projects
Finally, we will implement new feedback loops to identify STEM students who are most at-risk of leaving STEM and will provide these students with supplemental peer tutoring and early opportunities for paid research experiences and faculty mentoring relationships.
Through this layered experience, we aim to improve overall STEM graduation rates at Rice by 10% in engineering and 15% in science and to close the gap in rates of persistence for underrepresented minorities by at least half.
Results will be shared with key stakeholders to expand the use of evidence-based instruction to other STEM programs, including the Office of the Provost, Dean of Undergraduates, the Deans of Science and Engineering, Center for Teaching Excellence, and the Office of Faculty Development. Methods and results will be shared through publications, conferences, and a web-based repository of educational materials. Rice's commitment to undergraduate scholarship and diversity, and its history of institutionalizing and sharing effective programs make it an ideal site for successful implementation of evidence-based learning approaches in STEM.

For More Information

Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Ph.D.
Rice University
Department of Bioengineering
6100 Main Street MS-142
Houston, TX 77251-1892


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