STEM Central

A Community of Practice for NSF STEM Projects

"Looking Back" Blog series: Cabrillo College STEEP: Creating a Community of Motivated Learners

"Looking Back" Blog series: Cabrillo College STEEP: Creating a Community of Motivated Learners

Cabrillo College STEEP: Creating a Community of Motivated Learners

Here at STEP Central, we continue to work towards facilitating a community of practice among STEP grantees by highlighting project successes and learning from mistakes. Last month, we interviewed project leaders Claire Duggan and Chitra Javdekar and summarized findings in a short blog post featured on STEP Central.

This month, I spoke with Susan Tappero of Cabrillo College’s “Science, Technology, & Energy: Expanding Potential (STEEP)” grant. Susan spoke to how she and other project leaders worked to create a collaborative and energized community of learners. She also shared advice for grantees that may be facing project challenges. Here are her top three tips for facilitating a successful project.

1.  Choose project leaders wisely.

When Susan selected faculty to work on this project, she specifically sought younger adjunct faculty. This was because Susan found that these faculty were not only excited and motivated to engage students in STEM, but also had the time and energy to devote to such an effort. “It is important to have another two to three people working on your project with you – not too many, so things don’t get too complicated, but a rather few very dedicated people.  In this case, we found those people to be younger faculty.”

2.  Focus on student collaboration and community.

Susan’s project addressed the school’s precalculus class, which had high failing rates resulting in many students switching out of STEM majors. The project organized students into a cohort, meeting before the calculus class even began. Students in the cohort had the benefit of a peer support network and were more successful in the class overall. In this case, students were able to utilize each other as resources and felt a stronger connection between individual class performance and cohort success.

The project also uses a website to further student collaboration. The website serves as a space for students to post articles and resources, ask questions and plan meetings. In this way, students feel a continued sense of community that extends beyond in-person meetings.

3.  Prepare for a complicated evaluation process.

Susan found that her project’s internal evaluation process was much more difficult than she had expected. “The evaluation staff is extremely busy and overworked, and it takes a long time to get those evaluations back,” Susan explained. “In retrospect, I would have made some kind of contract with the evaluation staff or come up with a different solution to ensure that we received evaluations sooner.”