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Pre College Mathematics Preparation: Does It Work?

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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

Attracting Young MINDS in Engineering - Part I

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.968.1 - 15.968.10



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Paper Authors


Ruba Alkhasawneh Virginia Commonwealth University

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Ruba A. Alkhasawneh is a Ph.D. student in engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University. She received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Computer Engineering from Jordan University of Science and Technology and Yarmouk University, respectively in Jordan. Her research focuses on diversity issues and engineering education.

Address: 601 West Main Street, PO Box 843068,Richmond, VA 23284-3068; e-mail:

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Rosalyn Hobson Virginia Commonwealth University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Pre-College Mathematics Preparation: Does it work?


In 2008 and 2009 VCU offered a rigorous four week residential summer transition program for incoming under-represented minority freshmen in science, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. The core component of the academic program was mathematics preparation, achieved by offering a pre-calculus course. In addition, courses in science (chemistry) and study skills were offered. This paper will address the importance of offering mathematics preparation as a part of pre-college programs whose goals are to develop under-represented minority students’ performance and reduce the gap between them and their peers from different races/ethnicities. In addition, it will spot light the best practices which have been identified.


Calculus is a core subject for most of science and engineering fields and it affects student’s retention in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines during the freshmen year1. Unfortunately, many students in STEM disciplines still consider calculus a complicated and challenging subject2. Literature emphasizes that good high school mathematical knowledge leads to a good performance in the first mathematics college course, which is directly correlated with increased retention rates in STEM majors3-7. It was reported that “there is a consensus that math is the largest stumbling block causing dropout in the freshman year”, regarding engineering freshmen programs8. Moreover, approximately two thirds of students in calculus pass the course in their freshmen year which considered a low rate for college students9. With regard to under-represented minority students in STEM disciplines, calculus is a major obstacle during their career decision as well9.

Summer transition programs play a key role in achieving necessary mathematics preparation for the upcoming academic year. As in [10] engineering “math-based” retention programs had a significant impact on students’ performance on their first mathematics course. Another study revealed that there was no significant impact of such program on participant’s performance11. Nevertheless, the results from the same study showed that program participants’ performance was at lease the same as non-participants’ performance. Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), similar to many other institutions, has calculus as the first required mathematics course in the engineering curriculum. Literature connects good student performance in calculus with a good pre-calculus preparation12. Consequently, VCU developed a rigorous four week summer transition program (STP) for incoming minority (African American, Hispanic American, and Native American) freshmen STEM disciplines in 2008. The core academic component of the program was a pre-calculus preparation course along with science and study skills courses. A four credit pre-calculus course was offered during the program’s first year to prepare the students for their first mathematics course in the upcoming fall semester. All students took an on-line mathematics placement test to confirm their placement in pre-calculus. The goal of the summer course was to enhance participants’ mathematics knowledge and ensure that students could start their freshman year in calculus.

Alkhasawneh, R., & Hobson, R. (2010, June), Pre College Mathematics Preparation: Does It Work? Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16360

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