STEM Central

A Community of Practice for NSF STEM Projects

Lessons learned the first years: have a marketing campaign and assessment plan in place from the beginning (STEP Excel Success Factor 2: Assessment.) (EXCEL series:post 4)

Welcome to the current installment of my blog describing my experiences, lessons learned, and road bumps as I worked with my many colleagues from UCF, to develop the successful University of Central Florida’s EXCEL program.  I have been discussing three factors that we feel contributed to EXCEL’s institutionalization success. Factor 1: The strong coalition of faculty and staff who have supported the EXCEL efforts from its proposal submission phase to present, Factor 2: The rigorous student recruitment and assessment plan to evaluate EXCEL’s successes, and Factor 3: The strong support of the UCF administration.   Here I talk about Factor 2 – The importance of recruitment and assessment.

The first year of EXCEL was a struggle, in order to make sure that we would be able to attract the targeted number of 200 students and to appropriately prepare for the enhanced educational activities promised to our student cohort. There were though two important accomplishments in the first two years of the program. First, with the help of the UCF Marketing Department, we branded the program by calling it EXCEL and advocating that our intent is to connect students, faculty and staff in STEM disciplines; furthermore, during the first critical year of the program we created (with the help of UCF Marketing) the EXCEL brochure and postcards that have been indispensable marketing tools for attracting students in our program. Second, the EXCEL Assessment committee created an assessment plan that was rigorous (we had a control group of students to compare with) and simple (we relied on the recruitment numbers and the diversity in these numbers compared to the control group, the intermediate STEM retention numbers of the EXCEL and control groups, and finally the comparative performance of the EXCEL and control group of students in the gateway math classes of their first year in college). One of the lessons learned from these first two years of EXCEL is that you should have a compelling and simple to communicate marketing campaign in order to recruit students into your program. Another lesson learned is that you should have an assessment plan in place before the program is even initiated that provides hard, quantitative evidence of your program’s successes to your internal stakeholders (your institution’s administration) and external stakeholders (NSF, others).

Recruiting students and demonstrating success is not enough, however, to really institutionalize you program. You must also create and effectively engage an executive committee consisting of Deans, Department chairs, and your project PIs.   I’ll explain more why engaging your executive committee matters in the next blog.  In the meantime, please share your ideas and feedback below. I welcome your questions!