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The University of Kentucky (UK) and Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) have formed a partnership entitled 'Student Retention and Success in STEM through collaborative and multi-layered STEMCats Freshmen Program'. This consortium comprises 16 departments in 5 Colleges plus BCTC, and plans to implement a cross-disciplinary, multi-strategic and residential 'model' STEM freshmen program to enhance student retention, diversity and success. Several factors contribute to STEM attrition, including the difficulty in the subject content of freshman introductory STEM courses, particularly to underprepared incoming students; limited student-engagement and inquiry science in the early STEM curriculum; and student support systems falling short of that needed to motivate students through the rigorous and competitive pre-professional curriculum. Minority students may encounter additional challenges to 'fit in' to the current STEM culture. In response, the STEM departments at UK have collaboratively engaged in concerted, methodical and sustainable improvements in our undergraduate curricula and classroom pedagogy in the last decade. Establishing successful FastTrack courses for calculus, life sciences-oriented mathematics and chemistry introductory courses, summer undergraduate research programs, and research-oriented 21st century courses have shown potential for increasing the success of STEM students. In addition, the College of Arts and Sciences has established a model for a successful residential freshman program that has been associated with 11% increased freshman retention and 14% GPA improvement. Living and learning communities are emerging as a viable solution to mitigate attrition as well as to improve student learning. The proposed project will expand curricular improvements developed by the STEM departments and combine these with the freshman residential college model employed by the College of Arts and Sciences. As such, the STEMCats residential college will be the first comprehensive living and learning program dedicated to STEM students at UK. The STEMCats project aims to improve student retention, diversity and success by achieving the following specific objectives: (1) We will recruit a diverse cohort of 200-250 students, with enrichment of STEM-underrepresented minorities and women every year. (2) Two residential FastTrack courses in Chemistry and Biology will be offered preceding their fall admission (i.e. in addition to the successful math FastTrack courses offered currently). Similarly, a Physics FastTrack course will be offered preceding the start of the physics curriculum in the sophomore year. Each course will be of one-week duration. (3) We will streamline students' transition to the college-level academic rigor and expectations. A new multi-disciplinary research course comprising discussions, seminars, workshops, discovery-based wet-lab activities, and scientific- and professional- development activities will be instituted that meets weekly. Course meetings will be conducted by research faculty from across campus and by invited external experts. (4) We will facilitate higher student-achievements in learning through early introduction to research and inquiry-based science, novel and improved teaching strategies, cohort/community-based learning, and systems thinking. During spring and summer semesters of the freshman year, groups of 8-10 STEMCats will join a research project in a laboratory of a faculty member. The research project could be closely related to the disciplinary focus of the student-group or transcend the disciplinary boundaries. STEM faculty across campus will be recruited and involved as mentors for the cohort of 200-250 students each year. (5) We will rigorously assess and actively transfer successful components of the program to other STEM departments within and outside of UK. Finally, (6) we will revise our curriculum as measures of success, and lack thereof, become apparent.

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Vincent Cassone, Ph.D.
University of Kentucky
Department of Biology
101D Thomas Hunt Morgan
Lexington, KY 40506-0003


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