July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021
July 19, 2022
Cooperative and Experiential Education
An NSF S-STEM grant to explore the connection between student support networks and success within collegiate STEM field majors supported this on-going diversity study. Low socio-economic status applicants that were denied admission straight into engineering, but given admission into the university, were recruited for the Rising Scholar Program. The quality of the student’s support networks and their readiness for higher education were used as input data for a Web of Support characterization model to predict a student’s likely collegiate success at the matriculation point. For providing data to the researchers and following a proscribed path through the institution designed to interact with professional contacts and potential support network members, the Rising Scholar student was provided with an annual scholarship of $6,500. A significant programmatic element for these students was their involvement in experiential activities through pre-existing programs in the institution.
Professional Practice students have long indicated that the career focus provided by the experiential experience helps provide enthusiasm for continuing traditional academic learning and affords insight into the individual’s desired professional career progression. It was reasonably assumed that the Rising Scholars student population could be positively influenced toward long-term educational commitment through experiential activities providing realistic views of professional activity. The proscribed collegiate path for these students contained an experiential educational element for each summer between admission and graduation. A pre-collegiate academic boot camp with a preview of collegiate-level academic expectations initially prepared students for the rigors of modern college life. A summer research project with a faculty-directed laboratory before the sophomore year and a self-directed research project prior to the junior year were used to build project management experience, and a paid, external internship with a professional organization likely to hire within the student’s major provided the final summer activity. Communication exercises creating undergraduate journal articles for the students based upon their experiences were incorporated into the fall seminar classes.
The Rising Scholars students have been data matched with appropriately characterized students who were admitted directly into engineering and students who were admitted into exploratory studies with an interest in an engineering major. All Rising Scholars students began in the exploratory studies program. Preliminary data analysis suggests that the Rising Scholars are retained at all levels at significantly equivalent rates to the matching engineering cohort and outperform both the engineering and exploratory studies cohorts on GPA level. Based upon the limited data collected so far, the researchers seem to have been conclusively demonstrated that a structured, ‘high touch’ program with a heavy experiential component can successfully move low SES students with STEM inclinations through a highly ranked institution. Counselling to reduce the anxiety surrounding the collegiate process for first generation students and some form of scholarship support to reduce the financial burden are crucial underlying elements to this program’s success, but the importance of hands-on, experiential activities in helping the student visualize their professional career cannot be under-estimated. Program exit interviews will attempt to quantify the influence of this factor.
Stwalley, C. S., & Stwalley, R. M., & Baldwin, G. L., & Booth-Womack, V. L., & LaRose, S. (2021, July), Value of Experiential Experiences for Diverse Student Populations Within Engineering Disciplines Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/38008
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