Student Retention and Success in STEM through collaborative and multi-layered STEMCats Freshmen Program

Grants and Contracts Details


An inter-departmental and STEM-wide consortium led by the Department of Biology at The University of Kentucky (UK), together with Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) proposes to implement a cross-disciplinary, multi-strategic and residential 'model' STEM freshmen program to enhance student retention, diversity and success. Across the nation, STEM disciplines experience alarmingly high rates of student attrition. The same is true at UK, despite sustained efforts to mitigate attrition. Biology, which is the largest major on campus hosting 1353 majors and Chemistry with 457 majors experience approximately 50% attrition in the freshmen year itself. Similar to other public universities, STEM attrition rates among minority students are approximately 10% higher as compared to all students, which pose a major challenge to improving diversity in the STEM disciplines. Further, women are underrepresented in undergraduate programs in UK-STEM, amounting to approximately 46% in STEM disciplines in the College of Arts and Sciences. Several factors contribute to STEM attrition, including the difficulty in the subject content of freshman introductory STEM courses, particularly to underprepared incoming students; limited student-engagement and inquiry science in the early STEM curriculum; and student support systems falling short of that needed to motivate students through the rigorous and competitive pre-professional curriculum. Minority students may encounter additional challenges to 'fit in' to the current STEM culture. In response, the STEM departments at UK have collaboratively engaged in concerted, methodical and sustainable improvements in our undergraduate curricula and classroom pedagogy in the last decade. Establishing successful FastTrack courses for calculus and biology, life sciences-oriented mathematics, chemistry and physics introductory courses, summer undergraduate research programs, and research-oriented 21st century courses have shown potential for increasing the success of STEM students. In addition, the College of Arts and Sciences has established a model for a successful residential freshman program (i.e. 'Wired' freshman residential college) that has been associated with approximately 11% increased freshman retention and approximately 14% GPA improvement. Living and learning communities are emerging as a remarkable solution to mitigate attrition as well as to improve student learning. The proposed project will expand on curricular improvements developed by the STEM departments and combine these with the freshman residential college model employed by the College of Arts and Sciences. As such, the innovative STEM residential college proposed herein will be the first comprehensive living and learning program dedicated to STEM students at UK. The advancements in the student learning-front through these efforts will be strengthened by establishing an annual STEM faculty professional development and education forum to synergistically improve faculty-enthusiasm, awareness and capabilities to facilitate a state-of-the-art education to our students based on evidence-based curricular and pedagogical strategies. Together this project addresses all recommendations of the PCAST report 'Engage to Excel' on which the HHMI grant initiative 'Sustaining Excellence' is based.
Effective start/end date9/1/148/31/23


  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute: $1,900,000.00


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