Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Increasing Retention in STEM: Results from a STEM Talent Expansion Program at the University of Memphis

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Increasing Retention in STEM: Results from a STEM Talent Expansion Program at the University of Memphis

Article excerpt


MemphiSTEP is a five-year STEM Talent Expansion Program (STEP) at the University of Memphis sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The project focuses on retention and persistence to graduation to increase the number of STEM majors and graduates. The project includes a range of student retention programs, including a Summer Mathematics Bridge Bootcamp, Networking Program, Research Award Program, Travel Award program and STEM Learning Communities. Results from the first four years of the project suggest that MemphiSTEP is making a positive impact on student retention and performance in STEM fields. Our data indicate that even after controlling for gender, major, semester standing, race, and prior performance, STEM students taking part in MemphiSTEP activities are retained at higher rates and perform better than University of Memphis STEM students who have not participated in MemphiSTEP activities.

MemphiSTEP is a five-year Type 1 STEM Talent Expansion Program (STEP) funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF-DUE 0756738). MemphiSTEP is designed to significantly increase the number of STEM graduates (US citizens or permanent residents) at the University of Memphis (U of M) over the life of the grant and beyond. The project was put in place in June 2008 to address shortages of STEM graduates at the U of M and in the Mid-South region in general. Enrollment and graduation in STEM at the University had been declining consistent with a national downward trend. Enrollment in engineering majors had declined from 828 in fall 1997 to 650 in fall 2005 and had only recovered to 697 by fall 2007. The percentage of students in a STEM major in a given fall semester between 2007 and 2013 has been around 12%, whereas the percentage of the graduating class with a STEM major was 8.7% in the 2008-2009 academic year, 9.9% in the 2009-2010, 2010-2011, and 2011-2012 academic years, and 11.1% in the 2012-2013 academic year.

To address the shortage of STEM graduates, MemphiSTEP aimed to increase the total number of U of M STEM graduates from 212 per year (baseline measured in 2005 for the grant proposal) to 335 per year by 2013, representing an increase of over 60% in the number of STEM graduates. As outlined below, a range of student retention activities was developed to facilitate persistence to graduation in STEM. Data produced by the U of M Office for Institutional Research ( graduationgenerator.php) indicates that STEM graduation numbers have increased, reaching 320 by summer 2013. The objective of the current paper is to investigate whether MemphiSTEP student retention activities have played a role in student persistence to graduation and performance in STEM, factors critically related to graduation success.

This paper builds on a previous article published in the Journal of STEM Education (Russomanno, et al., 2010) regarding MemphiSTEP. The original paper outlines the MemphiSTEP student programs designed to increase persistence to graduation in STEM, organizational structure of the grant, objectives, and formative evaluation data relating to the first year of the project. Our goal for the original paper was to help others conduct or propose projects with similar objectives. The purpose of the present paper is to analyze the impact of the MemphiSTEP project and its individual components on persistence to graduation and performance, which should allow other retention projects to target interventions more successfully. This paper presents data and analysis of project program effectiveness for the first four years of the project (Year 1: 2008-2009; Year 2: 2009-2010; Year 3: 2010-2011; and Year 4: 2011-2012). For the purpose of assessing impact, GPA and retention in STEM are the key indicators used for predicting STEM student success and graduation increases.

Student Retention Programs

MemphiSTEP employs a range of retention programs that are informed and guided by the current research of numerous investigators; well-established best practices (e. …

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