The SUCCESS-LEADERS (Leading Educational and Academic Directions to Enhance Retention in STEM) project aims to develop, refine and implement practices that will advance understanding of the factors affecting retention and career pathways of low-income, at-risk populations. The production of academically talented, energetic STEM students with diverse backgrounds trained as leaders capable of propagating transformative mentoring skills will positively impact this nation’s workforce. We aim to produce innovative technological leaders who thrive in a diverse multidisciplinary community. Our institution has a longstanding history of success with NSF STEM education initiatives and has used program assessment to build upon these successes in establishing lasting institutional enterprises based on funded models. The small and supportive nature of a liberal arts college provides significant strength in encouraging at risk students to persist in STEM disciplines through strong mentoring in both curricular and research arenas. As a small liberal arts college offering engineering we are particularly suited to facilitate the development of future leaders of a diverse STEM workforce.
This project further broadens our inclusive recruiting strategy by building relationships with small, rural under-resourced public high schools in order to attract and retain talented students to STEM fields. Students originating from rural areas face unique challenges persisting in STEM fields. We aim to address these challenges by providing dedicated mentors and enabling the development of a tight knit, supportive cohort of scholars across disciplines. We focus on professional development activities that build the skills necessary to participate in mentoring activities, both as a mentee and a mentor to others. Connecting scholars with potential mentors, 1) in their peer group; 2) in their discipline as academic advisors; 3) in courses as professors; 4) in research as project advisors; and 5) in the workforce as professional contacts, enables personal growth and professional advancement of both the mentor and mentee. To encourage the students to be proactive in making professional contacts, we stress attendance at seminars within their STEM disciplines. Students are offered an opportunity to participate in the IMPACT program that aims to connect students to STEM professionals in industry. Placing students in the role of mentor, as STEM ambassadors to their community high schools, fosters student leadership and builds capacity for the initiative going forward. The program includes placing STEM students together into general education courses like the “first-year preceptorial” and the “sophomore research seminar” themed with sufficient breadth in order to ask students both to embrace how their discipline can contribute to the emerging concerns within the theme, but also to encourage discourse among the students in different STEM disciplines.
In addition to internal assessment conducted as part of the analysis for our current grant, data from a longitudinal retrospective analysis will be presented on the academic and professional pathways of prior NSF-DUE funded students. This will include prior cohorts totaling approximately 90 students who have matriculated over the last decade to compare their academic pathways during their undergraduate years and beyond against similar STEM-oriented students of the same class years in order to critically examine our efforts and identify the most impactful practices in achieving the project goals.
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