STEM Central

A Community of Practice for NSF STEM Projects

On a Path Towards Institutionalization (EXCEL series:post 6)

In my previous blog posts I described what I consider to be the three primary factors for STEP Project 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 assessment plan to evaluate EXCEL’s successes, and Factor 3: The strong support of the UCF administration.   In the Fall of 2008, our hard work started paying off. We started seeing the first set of impressive retention gains attained by EXCEL. Currently, EXCEL has attained retention gains of 17% compared to the control group, or else stated increased the retention rate, compared to the control group, by 40%. Most importantly the increased retention rates are more pronounced for African Americans, Hispanics, and women, since they are 58%, 45%, and 48%, respectively. We communicated these successes with each and every member of the EXCEL Executive committee and we continued this practice at the beginning of every fall semester thereafter (2009, 2010). This practice solidified UCF administration’s support for EXCEL (Factor 3). What has helped EXCEL significantly in its institutionalization efforts is that a large number of faculty participated in the enhanced STEM activities offered to its cohort (Factor 1:Faculty Support). For instance, the Applications of Calculus classes have been taught by more than 20 different STEM faculty, while in the undergraduate sophomore research experiences more than 80 STEM faculty have served as our students’ mentors.

As the third year of EXCEL (2008) was winding down we started thinking seriously about how we were going to institutionalize a program that involved so many dedicated people and accomplished so much. Therefore, we established an EXCEL Institutionalization committee headed by the program’s PIs. In the beginning months of 2009, the EXCEL PIs met several times with the Dean of Undergraduate Studies who was impressed by the program’s successes and was an advocate of institutionalizing it. After a number of these meetings, the Dean requested some quantitative data from the PIs (Factor 2) to present to the UCF Provost. Some of these data reported the successes of EXCEL in recruiting students and retaining them at higher numbers in STEM disciplines but it also provided another important piece of information. This information reported on the increased number of students that EXCEL was able to retain at UCF compared to the control group of students. A simple analysis of these numbers revealed that EXCEL efforts were providing to the university additional tuition revenue. This is what EXCEL proposed to the Dean of Undergraduate Studies as the annual institutionalized support for the EXCEL program. The Dean of Undergraduate Studies presented this proposal to the UCF provost, who in the summer of 2009, agreed to institutionalize EXCEL with the aforementioned annual support, once the NSF funding is over (fiscal year 2011). The support that the Provost provided to EXCEL would cover all the instructional support needs of EXCEL (faculty, graduate students). The Dean of Undergraduate Studies and the UCF Provost went one step further. They requested the EXCEL PIs to work in unison with the UCF Foundation for the organization of a special Executive committee meeting that would involve potential industry sponsors. This meeting was slated to take place in December 2009. At that meeting the UCF Provost would ask (challenge) the industry representatives to match the support that UCF is offering to the EXCEL program. This way, if this matching request was met by the industry, EXCEL would have been able to support all its enhanced educational activities (instructional activities supported by the Provost and funded sophomore research experiences, supported by the industry). Would you consider turning to industry partners to sponsor your successful programs?  What do you see as your main barriers to doing that? Please share your ideas using the comment button below.

In my next blog I will describe our special EXCEL Executive committee meeting and why it was a success.  In the meantime please don't hesitate to ask me questions or share comments on my blog by using the comment button below.