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Promoting Student Connections and Retention Through an On-campus Residential Learning Community for First-year Underrepresented and Low-income 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

First-year Programs Poster Session

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1088.1 - 25.1088.20



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Paper Authors


Jess W. Everett Rowan University

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Dr. Everett is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He is interested in sustainable engineering and education innovation.

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Patricia Dee Zobel Rowan University

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PROMOTING STUDENT CONNECTIONS AND RETENTION THROUGH AN ON-CAMPUS RESIDENTIAL LEARNING COMMUNITY FOR FIRST-YEAR UNDERREPRESENTED AND LOW-INCOME STUDENTSA College of Engineering (COE) at a four-year, mid-sized, suburban, public university in the North East is in the fourthyear of a six year NSF S-STEM scholarship program. In addition to providing two cohorts of students with four year$3,000 dollar annual scholarships, students are provided targeted mentoring, participate in an Engineering LearningCommunity (ELC) in the freshman year and are provided with tutoring-on-demand for core engineering coursesthroughout the four-year degree program. The purpose of this paper is to present results pertaining to the effectiveness ofthe ELC.Only students with financial need were considered for the S-STEM scholarship and ELC membership. Students fromunder-represented groups in Engineering were aggressively recruited. The first student cohort of 22 students was admittedin Fall 2009, with 50% belonging to under-represented groups in STEM. The second cohort of 22 students was admittedin Fall 2010. Sixty-four percent of the students belonged to under-represented groups. All S-STEM scholars participatedin the ELC. A number of components were included in the ELC to encourage student-faculty and student-studentrelationships and help students form support groups to improve the academic and social transition to college. Studentswere housed together in a common freshman dorm and enrolled in the same sections of Composition I, Introduction toEngineering I and II, and Calculus II (first cohort) or Physics I (second cohort). Extracurricular activities for the twocohorts were also used to forge bonds and promote academic success. It is hypothesized that creating more and strongerbonds with peers, faculty, and the campus provides students with access to resources that help them study, completehomework, and obtain useful information about their campus.A mixed media approach was used in the study presented here. Surveys were used at the beginning, middle, and end ofthe freshman year of each cohort. Some surveys were also administered to the general engineering population, allowingfor comparison of ELC and non-ELC students. Focus groups were conducted at least once for each cohort. One ELCleader kept a journal recording reflections on the extracurricular activities; the journal entries were coded and evaluated.Finally, the retention of the first cohort was examined (retention data for the second group should be available forinclusion in the paper that will be authored if this abstract is accepted).Only a few results are given here. More detail will be included in the full length paper. In January 2011 all freshman andsophomore engineering students completed an online survey regarding their experiences at RU. Surveys were returned by109 students out of 319 students (34%), 72 males and 37 females, 55 freshman and 54 sophomores. Ninety were not in theELC and 19 were in one of the two ELC cohorts. Results indicated that 87.5% of the ELC respondents strongly agreed oragreed that they felt connected to the Rowan University, compared to 66.7% of the Non-ELC respondents. Furthermore,87.5% of the ELC respondents strongly agreed or agreed that they had formed strong relationships with the engineeringfaculty, compared to only 25.3% of Non-ELC respondents. The retention rate for ELC and Non-ELC students entering inFall 2009 (first to second year) was identical. Given that the ELC students are all from families with financial need, andmost are from under-represented groups, this is a positive result.The Rowan S-STEM Scholarship program and ELC uses continuous improvement. Professors carefully observe studentsin class and during extracurricular events. Focus sessions and end-of-year surveys are also used to identify opportunities.Improvements are incorporated as soon as possible. A number of recommendations were identified from the first cohortand incorporated into the second cohort’s program, e.g., enrolling students in a zero-credit ELC seminar to ensure that allstudents can attend each extracurricular event, more social events early in the Fall semester to further cement student-student bonds, and replacing Calculus II with Physics I as one of the ELC classes. Students believed that laboratorycourses (e.g., Physics I) involve more student-student interaction and thus provide more value to the ELC.Though the current NSF S-STEM grant did not provide scholarships to a third cohort, the positive results of the first twoELC-cohorts were such that it was continued, without scholarships, for students entering in Fall 2011. This allowed theincorporation of recommendations identified through study of the second cohort, including replacing Composition I withChemistry I (to maximize the number of lab courses in the ELC) and excluding Honors students from the ELC (becausethey have to take Honors sections of some of the “ELC classes”). A full length paper will contain a more detaileddescription of the ELC and the results of surveys, focus groups, and coded reflections.

Everett, J. W., & Zobel, P. D. (2012, June), Promoting Student Connections and Retention Through an On-campus Residential Learning Community for First-year Underrepresented and Low-income Students Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21845

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