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(Boston) — Boston University today announced that the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded its College of Arts and Sciences a five-year, $1.6 million grant to support a new initiative to increase student retention rates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs.
The project, called PROSTARS: PROgrams in STEM Academic Retention and Success, aims to boost student retention in these areas by creating an interwoven set of new initiatives that include faculty professional development, STEM tutoring and support, summer bridge and undergraduate research opportunities, connections to community colleges and the Boston High School Scholars program, and interdisciplinary freshman seminars.
“Student success and retention in STEM fields is a problem because students enter BU with varying levels of preparation and often need support and encouragement to meet the academic challenges which they face,” said Bennett Goldberg, principal investigator, professor and chairman of the Department of Physics at BU.
According to Dr. Goldberg, while BU has a better STEM student retention rate than some other universities, there is room for improvement. “This funding is integral to creating a stronger infrastructure for STEM students and building a sense of community and a level of engagement for faculty and administrators alike. We will also use the data which we collect to develop a strategy for growth over the long term and hopefully a national model,” he said. “Ultimately, we’d like to lower the current STEM attrition rate from 24 percent to 20 percent.”
According to recent data, STEM retention is a national issue. The Augustine report to the National Academy of Sciences and President Bush’s proposal of the American Competitiveness Initiative in his last State of the Union Address point out that to remain competitive in these fields, the United States must develop techniques to enhance the depth and breadth of the STEM workforce and build the educational pipeline. Additionally, it has long been recognized that STEM is one of the last areas to integrate women and minorities in the professional ranks.
Under the direction of Goldberg and BU Professors Amit Meller, Donald DeRosa, and John Snyder, PROSTARS is a multi-tiered approach that will attract students to STEM fields, keep them moving forward toward a STEM degree, and improve how STEM classes are taught. While the program is aimed at all students, it will have a specific focus on underserved and female students. The funding will allow the team to:
• Conduct a comprehensive analysis of student data to help identify the risk factors and reasons why many students do not finish a STEM degree.
• Incorporate freshman seminars in study tools and new interdisciplinary science exploration seminars into BU’s curricula.
• Host a Summer Bridge program for STEM freshman from the Boston High Scholars program to help prepare them for successful completion of their degrees.
• Introduce undergraduates to research early through BU’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).
• Extend opportunities for research activities to three community colleges in the Boston area: Roxbury Community College, Bunker Hill Community College, and Mass Bay Community College.
• Work closely with BU’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) committee to develop programs that will support the retention of undergraduate women.
• Use Boston University’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CET) to facilitate and enhance the development of faculty and staff from STEM disciplines.
• Establish a program evaluation and feedback system with Dr. Russ Faux of Davis Square Research Associates (DRSA).
“Boston University has an extensive history of providing opportunities for K-12 students,” said Cynthia Brossman, director of the Boston University Learning Resource Network (LERNet) which runs educational and enrichment activities for middle and high school students. “What is wonderful about PROSTARS is that we will be able to provide more support for STEM students from Boston’s inner-city high schools, already supported through the Boston Scholars program, and hopefully through summer research experiences, motivate more community college students to enter STEM fields.”
In addition to developing new courses and providing more focused support services for students, PROSTARS will also seek to improve the way STEM courses are taught. According to Dr. Goldberg, “by making more professional development opportunities available for faculty and encouraging them to stay abreast of new strategies and methods for teaching STEM classes, we hope to create a better experience for students and thereby increase their chances of staying in STEM disciplines.”
“Our longstanding involvement with STEM education has led us to the conviction that there is much more to be learned about what needs to be done to attract and retain students. The PROSTARS project is positioned to make a significant contribution to both learning about student experiences and developing replicable innovations to support STEM enrollments,” said Dr. Faux, president of Davis Square Research Associates. “To ensure PROSTARS is as effective as possible, Davis Square Research Associates will collaborate closely with Dr. Goldberg and the many faculty and staff at BU involved in this important initiative. Through systematic and comprehensive evaluation research, we will be able to make any necessary adjustments to ensure the benefits of PROSTARS are both far-reaching and long-lasting.”
Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 30,000 students, it is the fourth largest independent university in the United States. BU contains 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the school’s research and teaching mission.