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Redefining Retention in STEM Education: New Perspectives on a Student-centered Metric of Success

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Educational Research and Methods Division (ERM) Best Paper Finalists

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Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Andrew Forney Loyola Marymount University

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Prof. Andrew Forney is an Assistant Professor in Computer Science at Loyola Marymount University with research interests broadly at the intersection of cognitive psychology, artificial intelligence, and experimental design. He has worked with the UCLA Cognitive Systems Laboratory for the past 7 years advancing the theory and practice of causal inference as an emerging set of tools for both the empirical sciences and design of artificial decision-makers. His recent efforts focus on counterfactual reasoning for recommender systems that can employ the intended choices of those being advised to create better policies. He is interested in applying these systems in real-world scenarios with human advisees to assess their effect on quality of education. He also works closely with the Seaver College First-Year Advising Committee, attempting to help first-year STEM students begin their college careers through data-driven analyses that concert his backgrounds in Computer Science and Psychology.

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Sunai Kim Loyola Marymount University

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Sunai Kim is an Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering with a specialty in Structural Engineering and is a licensed structural engineer in the state of California with 7 years of industry experience in design, analysis, and construction administration of structures. The PI has computational research experience in structural reliability and tall building behavior; during her doctoral studies (Kim, 2016), she conducted statistical analysis of component and system responses of tall buildings and coded a platform to automate Monte Carlo simulations for tall building behavior under seismic loads. The PI is currently working on reinforced concrete shear wall testing under wind loads and improving spatial skills of undergraduate engineering students.

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Retention in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs is a national problem. Although many studies have attempted to identify characteristics of students at high risk of attrition and other interventions to aid these populations, few have adequately questioned the metric of success itself: retention. To be specific, “retention” tracks only the percentage of students who begin their undergraduate career in a chosen major and successfully matriculate, which may be too coarse of a measure for several reasons: (1) it counts as successes students who remain in an initially chosen STEM major, but flounder, (2) it counts as failures students who leave their initially chosen STEM major, but flourish, and (3) it ignores entirely students who begin within non-STEM majors and transfer into a STEM cohort. This work introduces a new metric of success to address these issues: the Retention Index for STEM Excellence (RISE). The RISE asserts that failure to retain may not be a failure of the program but rather a failure of advising to match interests to fields of study or to correct misconceptions of the one initially chosen. By viewing major selection as a dynamic system rather than a single and final choice, the RISE offers a student-centered and discipline-specialized approach to advising that can help students find their proper home in STEM fields both before and after entering college. This work motivates, defines, and then deploys the RISE on the past decade of student transcripts from Loyola Marymount University’s Seaver College of Science and Engineering. Significant differences on the RISE are discussed within a variety of substrata, including discipline, gender, and ethnicity, with further discussion for the broader implications of this new metric.

Forney, A., & Kim, S. (2020, June), Redefining Retention in STEM Education: New Perspectives on a Student-centered Metric of Success Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35125

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