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The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) will establish a new Freshman Research Sequence, the "Program to Educate and Retain Students In STEM Tracks" (UTEP PERSIST), that is grounded in current education theory and evidence-based practices and built on a foundation of existing curricular and programmatic innovation at UTEP. This new sequence is modeled after the successful Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) at the University of Texas at Austin, and will directly test the utility of this model with a substantially different student demographic. UTEP has previously implemented upper division research experience courses in microbiology and, as part of the Science Education Alliance, runs a single laboratory section of the Phage Hunter laboratory. This new program, however, will both dramatically increase the number of freshman research opportunities and greatly diversify the possible research areas to cover all STEM disciplines.

In the Fall semester of their freshman year, all PERSIST students will take a Foundations of Research course, which addresses the elements of research training based on the needs of our unique student population and introduces them to and matches them with the faculty and research options available in the following semesters. In the following Spring, students will begin a two semester laboratory sequence that engages them in an authentic research experience designed and led by a UTEP faculty researcher. The proposed sequence will take the place of existing courses and will not add additional load to students' degree plans. Over the course of the program, we will continue to implement additional research tracks across all STEM disciplines. By the fifth year of the project we will have capacity to provide research opportunities each year to over 350 entering freshmen in Science and Engineering.

The short term expected outcomes of this new sequence, based both on national reports and on pilot projects at UTEP, are:
- Greater retention of freshman and sophomore students in STEM disciplines.
- Increased STEM enrollment due to recruitment of students going into PERSIST courses and increase in STEM retention.
- Earlier establishment of professional identity by PERSIST participants (vs matched, non-participants) within each of the participating STEM disciplines.

Longer-term outcomes of this program include:
- Increased research productivity of faculty and graduate associates who lead and teach Research Track courses.
- Increased numbers of STEM graduates.
- Increased numbers and proportion of STEM graduates entering graduate and professional programs.

UTEP offers a unique environment for the development, implementation, and evaluation of educational approaches for at risk populations. We are a High Research Active (HRA) University with a student population that, in 2012, was 63.1 % Pell Grant Eligible and 56.8 % First-in-Family to attend college. 80.4 % of our undergraduates are Hispanic. Most importantly, we have a long-standing commitment to Access and Excellence, reflected in our statements of Mission and Vision and in our dedication to evidence-based improvements in student success, and we have an extensive record in providing undergraduate students with individual, mentored research experiences. Thanks to our demonstrated accomplishments, we have become a model of excellence in undergraduate education while having the lowest tuition costs of any of the public HRA universities in Texas.

The ultimate goal of UTEP PERSIST is to significantly increase the number of exceptionally trained science and engineering graduates from the underrepresented and financially disadvantaged groups that make up the majority of UTEP's student body.

For More Information

Stephen Aley
University of Texas at El Paso
Office of Research and Sponsored Projects - ADMN 209
500 West University Avenue
El Paso, TX 79968-8900


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