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Influencing Sense Of Community In A Stem Living Learning Community: An Nsf Step Funded Project

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Research on The First Year II

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.734.1 - 15.734.16



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Paper Authors


Melissa Dagley-Falls University of Central Florida

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Melissa Dagley Falls is the Director of Academic Affairs for the UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science and advisor to both undergraduate and graduate students within the college. Dr. Dagley Falls chairs the Admission, Advising, and Retention Committee (AARC) and serves on the assessment and activities teams of the NSF-funded STEP program entitled†EXCEL:UCF-STEP Pathways to STEM: From Promise to Prominence." Her research interests lie in the areas of student access to education, sense of community, retention, first-year experience, living-learning communities, and persistence to graduation for students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs.

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Michael Georgiopoulos University of Central Florida

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Michael Georgiopoulos is a Professor in the UCF School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the PI of the NSF-funded S-STEM program at UCF entitled the "Young Entrepreneur and Scholar(YES) Scholarship Program" as well as the NSF-funded STEP program entitled "EXCEL:UCF-STEP Pathways to STEM: From Promise to Prominence." Dr. Georgiopoulos' research interests lie in the areas of machine learning, neural networks, pattern recognition and applications in signal/image processing, communications, medical field, manufacturing, transportation engineering, amongst others. Dr. Georgiopoulos is a Director of the Machine Learning Laboratory at UCF.

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Cynthia Young University of Central Florida

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Cynthia Young is a Professor in the Department of Mathematics in the UCF College of Sciences and a Co-PI of the NSF-funded S-STEM program at UCF entitled the "Young Entrepreneur and Scholar(YES) Scholarship Program" as well as the NSF-funded STEP program entitled "EXCEL:UCF-STEP Pathways to STEM: From Promise to Prominence." Dr. Young's research interests are in the mathematical modeling of atmospheric effects on laser beams. She currently has projects with the Office of Naval Research and the Naval Research Laboratory investigating atmospheric propagation in the marine environment.

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Influencing Sense of Community in a STEM Living-Learning Community Introduction

The STEM pipeline continues to shrink. Called a “quiet crisis”, 1 the effects of the shrinking pool will only be felt “in fifteen to twenty years, when we discover we have a critical shortage of scientists and engineers capable of doing innovation…” (Jackson in Friedman, p. 253). Important to this crisis, K-12 students are much less interested in science and engineering than in the past and are not as prepared to handle the college level work required to attain these degrees2. The percentage of the ACT-tested students interested in engineering declined from eight to five percent over the last decade2. Of those who enter college only 42% receive a bachelor’s in their intended field of study3 and for STEM disciplines, other than the life sciences, these percentages are lower3. Evidence can also be seen in the percentage of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the STEM disciplines as compared to the overall number of degrees awarded. From a record high of 36% in the late 1960s the percentage of bachelor’s degrees awarded has ebbed and flowed rebounding only slightly to 32% in 20064. More disturbing is the fact that within this small percentage of degrees awarded in STEM disciplines, only half of those bachelor’s degrees were awarded in the hard sciences4. With a lower percentage of students showing interest and a lower percentage of those declaring STEM disciplines completing a degree in their intended field, the outlook for increased percentages of STEM students entering the workforce is not promising.

Institutions of higher education are being held more accountable by industry, government, and institutional leaders5-8. With the shrinking number of students interested in engineering and other STEM disciplines, institutions of higher education must attract and retain more students in these disciplines in order to increase the number of graduates. To do so, it is critical to devise strategies that are effective both in cost and outcomes to recruit, retain, and graduate more students in the STEM disciplines9-10. There are many paths to retaining students in a university setting. It is imperative that researchers continue to look for the best practices, or combination of best practices, that lead to greater student persistence. Leaders have proposed that faculty and student services should create appropriate campus programming to promote student success11-16. Learning communities and a student’s psychological sense of community have played important roles in increasing retention and student learning. Further study of sense of community and the connection to retention in these smaller university communities is needed17 especially as they relate to STEM students.

Learning Communities

The concept of learning communities began as early as 1927 with Meiklejohn and Dewey’s experimental colleges, but found new life in the early 1980s when the Washington Center for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education was formed to disseminate learning community information. The learning community movement found support throughout the 1980s and 1990s in a number of national reports18-20 including the National Institute of Education’s (1984) Involvement in Learning21. This report specifically recommended: “Every institution of higher education should strive to create learning communities, organized around specific intellectual themes or tasks” (p. 35). Developing a sense of community was a significant outcome of many of the early learning community experiments.

Dagley-Falls, M., & Georgiopoulos, M., & Young, C. (2010, June), Influencing Sense Of Community In A Stem Living Learning Community: An Nsf Step Funded Project Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16115

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