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Positive Impact of an S-STEM Scholarship Program on Computer Science Students’ Academic Performance and Retention Rate

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Computing and Information Technology Division Technical Session 8

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Computing and Information Technology

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Zhijiang Dong Middle Tennessee State University

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Dr. Zhijiang Dong is a Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Middle Tennessee State University. His research areas are in the fields of formal methods, system verification and validation, and computer science education. He received his BS in Mathematics from Huazhong University of Science and Technology at China, and his PhD in Computer Science from Florida International University.

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Joshua Lee Phillips Middle Tennessee State University


Eric Oslund Middle Tennessee State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Eric Oslund is a Educational Psychologist and applied statistician. His work focuses on using advanced statistical models to better understand the complex relations among the numerous variables involved in learning and education. He received his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University and completed a two-year fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin. He is an associate professor in the College of Education at Middle Tennessee State University.

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Chrisila Pettey Middle Tennessee State University


Catherine E. Brawner Research Triangle Educational Consultants

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Catherine E. Brawner is President of Research Triangle Educational Consultants. She received her Educational Research and Policy Analysis from NC State University in 1996. She also has an MBA from Indiana University (Bloomington) and a bachelor’s degree from Duke University. She specializes in
evaluation and research in engineering education, computer science education, and technology education. Dr. Brawner is a founding member and former treasurer of Research Triangle Park Evaluators, an American Evaluation Association affiliate organization and is a member of the American Educational Research Association and American Evaluation Association, in addition to ASEE. Dr. Brawner is also an Extension Services Consultant for the National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT) and, in that role, advises computer science and engineering departments on diversifying their undergraduate student population. She remains an active researcher, including studying academic policies, gender and ethnicity issues, transfers, and matriculation models with MIDFIELD as well as student veterans in engineering. Her evaluation work includes evaluating teamwork models, broadening participation initiatives, and S-STEM and LSAMP programs.

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In this Work in Progress, we present a progress report from the first two years of a five-year Scholarships in STEM program. The number of graduates with computing related degrees from colleges and universities, especially female and underrepresented minorities (URM), is too small to keep up with the fast-growing demand for IT professionals across nation and Tennessee specifically. To reduce the gap in the Tennessee region, our university launched a 5-year S-STEM Scholarship program in 2018 to recruit and graduate more computer science students, especially female and URM. The scholarship program supports about 20 qualified Pell-eligible students every year. Each recipient receives an annual stipend of up to $6000 for no more than three years. In order to increase their interest in computer science and to improve retention of CS majors, a pipeline of well-proven activities were integrated into the program to inspire exploration of the CS discipline and computing careers at an early stage and help students gain work experience before graduation. These activities include, but are not limited to: summer research program that provides opportunities for students to conduct research in different computer science areas, peer-mentoring program that leverages experience and expertise of the group of CS majors who work in the computing field to better prepare scholarship recipients for their careers, and professional conference attendance program that sends students to professional conferences to explore computer science careers and build their own networks. The preliminary data suggest that these activities had a positive effect on our students. We find that the financial support allows students to focus on both academics and searching for computing-related employment. Early analysis of institutional data shows that scholars take more CS credit hours and achieve a higher GPA than other Pell-eligible and non-Pell eligible students, thus making faster progress toward their degree. The support to attend in-person conferences and summer research opportunities had a transformative impact on many participating scholars. The original mentoring program was less effective and has been redesigned to include higher expectations for mentors and mentees and increased faculty involvement. This paper will describe the program elements and explain the effects of these activities on our students with preliminary outcome data and formative evaluation results about the program.

Dong, Z., & Phillips, J. L., & Oslund, E., & Pettey, C., & Brawner, C. E. (2021, July), Positive Impact of an S-STEM Scholarship Program on Computer Science Students’ Academic Performance and Retention Rate Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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