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Flexible and Sustainable Interventions for Mathematics Support of First-year Students

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

FPD X: Addressing Retention in the First Year

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.640.1 - 25.640.8



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Paper Authors


Andria Costello Staniec Syracuse University

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Andria Costello Staniec is an Associate Professor in civil and environmental engineering at Syracuse University (SU). Since 2010, she has served as the Associate Dean for Student Affairs in the LC Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science at SU. As Associate Dean, Costello Staniec has focused on student success both through the development of structured retention programs and through one-on-one interventions with students.

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Helen M. Doerr Syracuse University

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Professor of mathematics and mathematics education

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Flexible and Sustainable Interventions for Mathematics Support of First-Year Students  In responding to the need to improve retention in the first year of engineering, many institutionshave developed a range of academic support programs, including learning communities, peermentoring, summer bridge programs, tutorial services and supplemental instructionalworkshops1,2,3,4,5. In this paper, we describe the re-design of a traditional instructional workshopfor first-year engineering students at a large private university. We will present data that assessesstudent perceptions and performance in both the traditional and re-designed workshops and willmake recommendations for future work in this area.Approximately 100 one-credit supplemental workshops are offered throughout the academic yearfor mathematics courses (Pre-Calculus through Calculus III) and select engineering classes. Theworkshops are run by a peer facilitator and are structured to promote social interactions whileproviding additional work in the academic subject area. Students are required to enroll in theworkshops at the beginning of the semester. The workshops meet once a week for a 2 hour blockand students complete worksheets that supplement the material being covered in the respectiveclass.Recently, we completed an analysis of data comparing the mathematics grades of first-yearstudents enrolled in workshops for pre-Calculus and Calculus versus those not enrolled in anysupport courses. Surprisingly, students enrolled in workshops did no better than those who werenot enrolled. In addition to our data analysis, we conducted surveys of all students enrolled in theworkshops in December 2010. Overwhelmingly, students commented on being “bored” in theirsessions, they believed that the worksheets were “not related to what is happening in class” andmany found the games “useless” and a “waste of time”. It also became clear that the studentexperience was highly dependent on the strength of the particular peer facilitator.In Fall 2011, we piloted a re-design of our mathematics workshops to be non-credit peer-ledstudy groups (PLSGs) that use social media (e.g., Facebook) and in-person sessions to facilitateinteractions among students. The goal of the re-designed PLSGs is to provide a flexible andresponsive intervention that will engage students academically as well as provide social support.The PLSGs were re-designed for two sections of Pre-Calculus and one section of Calculus I andare being run in parallel with the existing for-credit workshops. The PLSGs are being led byexperienced facilitators and the facilitators are under the direct supervision of two mathematicseducation graduate students who are serving as learning specialists. The learning specialistsinteract directly with the faculty teaching Pre-Calculus and Calculus and provide the peerfacilitators with guidance on leading a peer study session through the solution of problemsdirectly related to the material covered in class that same week, and often the same day.Unlike the for-credit workshops, the PLSGs do not meet in required sessions, but rather eachfacilitator runs a one hour study group session that is focused on the concepts and problems thatare being taught that day in the course. In addition, using Facebook and email, the PLSGfacilitators offer virtual study groups based on the immediately identified needs of the students.The facilitators also offer in person office hours. Since the PLSG is a non-credit course, studentsare welcome to move in and out of the PLSG based on their needs at any given time.After the first exam in Calculus I, we surveyed students about the for-credit workshops and thePLSGs. Those students enrolled in the PLSGs were overwhelmingly positive when describingthe course and had comments such as “virtual hours make it easy to get help” and “if I am stuckon a particular concept, I just go in and they help me do multiple problems”. For those studentsenrolled in both courses, the majority felt that in the for-credit workshop, “the material we coveralmost always is outdated”.We meet weekly with the graduate student learning specialists to gather feedback and makechanges to provide the maximum flexibility in PLSGs for the students. At the end of thesemester, we will survey all Pre-Calculus and Calculus students about their experiences in thefor-credit workshop and the PLSGs. These data will be used to refine our design of flexible andresponsive solutions that will meet the varying academic, cultural and social needs of first-yearstudents.References1. Gattis, C., Hill, B., & Lachowsky, A. (2007). A successful engineering peer mentoring program. In American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings.2. Jones, S., Rusch, K., Waggenspack, W., Seals, R., & Henderson, V. (2010). S-STEM: Eng^2 scholars for success engineering engagement. In American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings.3. Kukreti, A., Simonson, K., Johnson, K., & Evans, L. (2009). A NSF-supported S-STEM program for recruitment and retention of underrepresented ethnic and women students in engineering. In American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings.4. Massi, L., Georgiopoulos, M., Young, C., Ducharme, A., Ford, C., Small, K., Lancey, P., & Bhatia, D. (2010). YES: A NSF S-STEM scholarship program experience at the University of Central Florida. In American Society For Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings.5. Russomanno, D., Best, R., Ivey, S., Haddock, J., Franceschetti, D., & Hairston, R. (2010). MemphiStep: A STEM talent expansion program at the University of Memphis. Journal of STEM Education, 11(1 & 2), 69-81.

Costello Staniec, A., & Doerr, H. M. (2012, June), Flexible and Sustainable Interventions for Mathematics Support of First-year Students Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21397

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