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Participatory Action Research (PAR) as Formative Assessment of a STEM Summer Bridge Program

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

K-12 and Bridge Experiences in Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Susan Thomson Tripathy University of Massachusetts, Lowell Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Susan Thomson Tripathy received a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Harvard University in 1989. Her doctoral research was funded by a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation grant, and utilized ethnographic fieldwork in rural Bihar, India, to analyze the politics and artistic development of a local dance form. From 1995-2007, Tripathy taught behavioral sciences at Middlesex Community College (MCC), where she was an active participant and researcher in MCC’s extensive community service-learning program. In 2007, she became the Director of Research at Germaine Lawrence, a residential treatment center for adolescent girls in Arlington MA, focusing on program evaluation and outcomes after discharge. Since 2011, Dr. Tripathy has been teaching in the Sociology department at University of Massachusetts Lowell. She received teaching awards for applied and experiential learning in 2013 and 2014, was promoted to Associate Teaching Professor in 2018, and received the UMass Lowell Teaching Excellence Award in Sociology in 2018. From 2016-2019, Dr. Tripathy was the Director of the Bachelor of Liberal Arts program, an interdisciplinary major with an enrollment of 250 undergraduate students. In 2018 and 2019, she collaborated with Dr. Kavitha Chandra to utilize participatory action research (PAR) as an evaluation approach for the Research, Academics, and Mentoring Pathways (RAMP) summer program for first-year female engineering students.

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Kavitha Chandra University of Massachusetts, Lowell

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Kavitha Chandra is the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Francis College of Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She directs the Research, Academics and Mentoring Pathways (RAMP) to Success program that aims to establish successful pathways to graduate school and interdisciplinary careers for new undergraduate students. Dr. Chandra’s research interests include design of data-driven stochastic models for applications in acoustics, communication networks and predictive analytics in education.

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Diane Reichlen University of Massachusetts, Lowell

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Diane Reichlen is a successful engineering executive with extensive experience in motivating and inspiring engineers to be innovative, collaborative, and to use critical thinking skills. She has over 20 years of experience leading engineering teams in Computer Information Technology and Management. Diane was VP of Engineering at Dell Technologies from 2013 to 2018, where she led all quality engineering activities for their market leading Enterprise Storage and Software Solutions. Prior to Dell, Diane held several leadership positions for cybersecurity engineering teams. She served as VP of Engineering at CA Technologies from 2007 to 2013 where she led the Identity Management engineering team for their Security Software and Products organization. Prior to CA, Diane served as Director of Engineering at Symantec from 1997 to 2007. At Symantec she led the Norton 360 engineering team and was responsible for all engineering activities related to the delivery of Symantec’s consumer security suite which included software to protect against viruses, spyware, malware, phishing, trojan horses and other online threats. She also directed the activities of the development team who converted a software Firewall/VPN product into a market leading Unified Threat Management appliance which included Antivirus and Content Filtering.

Diane Reichlen is effective at creating and mobilizing large, geographically dispersed teams to meet the demands of competitive and aggressive engineering deliverables. Strengths include the ability to recognize the unique talents each engineer has, and how best to exploit those talents in order to bring success.

Diane holds a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from Boston College.

Diane is on LinkedIn at

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Title: Using Participatory Action Research (PAR) for Formative Assessment of a STEM Summer Bridge Program

Paper type: Work-in-Progress

Research, Academics and Mentoring Pathways (RAMP) is a six-week summer bridge program offered to incoming female engineering students at UMass Lowell. First implemented in 2018, RAMP enrolled 22 students its first year and 15 students the following year. The goals of this program are to increase the enrollment, retention, and success of female engineering students as they enter the College of Engineering, continue with their studies, and graduate into the workforce. The objectives are to encourage research participation, improve student content knowledge in gateway courses such as Calculus, and improve their sense of belonging, preparedness, and self-efficacy.

Towards these goals and objectives, we utilized Participatory Action Research (PAR) to construct a series of formative assessments prioritizing the views and participation of the RAMP students themselves. PAR was selected as a research and assessment strategy due to its emphasis on student participation and empowerment linked with action for positive change. Online surveys and four focus groups involved the students in topics on (i) what they were excited about doing and learning in RAMP; (ii) how to keep their engineering career in orbit; (iii) what surprised them about RAMP and suggestions for change; and (iv) a tree values exercise that had them identify their core values and the skills needed to support and grow them.

Analysis of the assessment data from these activities in 2018 showed that the RAMP students had set a combination of academic, social and professional goals for themselves and emphasized the need to have social connections to get used to life on campus. To keep their career in orbit, they expressed the need for guidance or reference points and highlighted the value in developing connections with professors and establishing professional connections outside of academe. They maintained that a balanced life with time for family and friends as being very important to keep them in orbit in school. As core values, they identified in order of importance, happiness, growth, intelligence challenge, family and love. Several academic and non-academic portions of the RAMP program were then aligned so as to help them anchor these values, and were also incorporated into the design of the 2019 RAMP program. For example, rather than have a researcher lead the focus groups, we trained two students who participated in the 2018 RAMP program to be facilitators, thus increasing student involvement and leadership, and also creating more possibilities for peer mentorship.

There are few reports that mention using PAR as a strategy for formative assessment in engineering bridge programs and reviews have stressed the need for effective formative assessment to bring about positive changes in future iterations of these programs (Ashley et al. 2017: 13). Based on our findings using PAR in the UMass Lowell RAMP program, we will identify the insights learned from this type of formative assessment and explain why this participatory and empowering approach is especially helpful for addressing inequities faced by women in engineering education.

Ashley, M., Cooper, K., Cala, J.M., Brownell, S.E. (2017). Building better bridges into STEM: A synthesis of 25 years of literature on STEM summer bridge programs. CBE Life Sciences Education, 16:es3, 1-18.

Tripathy, S. T., & Chandra, K., & Reichlen, D. (2020, June), Participatory Action Research (PAR) as Formative Assessment of a STEM Summer Bridge Program Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--33957

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