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Increasing retention of STEM students at UNO, an urban university
As an urban university with a strong reputation in the sciences, The University of New Orleans (UNO) is uniquely positioned to make a large impact on the recruitment and persistence of students, especially minorities, in STEM. Over the past five years, nearly 30% of all First-Time Full-Time (FTFT) freshmen science majors have been African-American or Hispanic and 50% FTFT freshman science majors were female (excluding psychology). We have a dedicated and enthusiastic group of faculty who both teach at the undergraduate level and perform research. In recent years, these faculty have begun exploring the use of active learning strategies, but in order to transform the way we engage students on a large-scale basis, we need a few key faculty to energize and train our experienced Biology and Math faculty teaching gateway courses. Our data indicate that poor performance in freshman mathematics courses is an important contributor to low retention rates of STEM majors at UNO. This collaboration between the Departments of Mathematics and Biological Sciences outlines a series of initiatives which will establish a strong framework for recruitment and retention of STEM students focusing on the students from their freshman through the junior year in college. We will: 1) establish math and biology advising boot camps for freshman at UNO to increase success in STEM courses; 2) establish STEM learning communities at the freshman and sophomore levels in interdisciplinary topics; 3) transform math courses with an emphasis on interactive teaching, use of technology, and student engagement which will increase student persistence in all STEM majors; 4) transform biology freshman and sophomore core courses with active learning, flipping the classroom and authentic research experiences within the lab sections and peer-led supplemental recitation sections; We will evaluate the impact of these initiatives with the expectation that they will improve year-to-year retention rates by at least 10%/year, improve student achievement in the form of GPA, improve graduation rates, and increase the numbers of STEM students who aspire/matriculate in graduate and professional schools. We expect changes to the Biology curriculum to increase measures of success particularly among women and under-represented groups in Biology, while changes in math education are expected to enhance retention and progress of students of all backgrounds in both the Colleges of Sciences and Engineering. The team will be led by Dr. Wendy Schluchter, Chair of the Biological Sciences Department (who has experience in running research and mentoring projects), Dr. Tumulesh Solanky, Chair in Mathematics (who has won a prestigious teaching award and led the effort to transform some test sections of Math 1115, College Algebra), and Dr. Jerry Howard, Associate Chair in Biological Sciences (who has won several teaching awards at UNO, and who has extensive experience with curriculum design). These efforts are broadly supported by the UNO administration and by the faculty in Mathematics, Biological Sciences and more broadly in the Colleges of Science and Engineering. We will employ an external advisory committee to help us improve our program from year to year based upon evaluation results.

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Wendy Schluchter, Ph.D.
University of New Orleans
Department of Biological Sciences
232 Biology Building
New Orleans, LA 70148-2000


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