STEM Central

A Community of Practice for NSF STEM Projects

A combined early research/cohort model to improve retention of underrepresented minority students in the sciences at a small liberal arts college

Dickinson College (Carlisle, Pennsylvania) is a small residential liberal-arts college serving 2300 undergraduates. Anecdotal observation suggested that the majority of underrepresented minority students who came to Dickinson interested in pursuing a science major did not graduate with one. While some of this change likely was related to development and subsequent pursuit of a new non-science interest, it was believed that several students switched to a non-science major because completion of the science major was too challenging. Because other institutions had successfully implemented programs in which students improved their STEM major completion rates (e.g. via the early research opportunities and use of the cohort model - the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at University of Maryland Baltimore County), and because of the general success of students at Dickinson who were members of cohorts of the Posse Foundation, we decided to adopt a similar model in order to improve retention of underrepresented minority students in the sciences. Minority students (indicating interest in science in their admissions application) who were accepted to Dickinson were recruited to participate in the NSF-STEP program. For 4 weeks in July, prior to their first year, the students come to Dickinson and are involved in cohort building while spending about two-thirds of their time in a research lab and about one-third of the time working on math and other study skills. Starting with their return to campus in August, each student is advised bi-weekly by a science faculty member in order to monitor progress in coursework. After either the first or Sophomore year, each student spends 8 weeks in a Dickinson research lab; after Junior year, the students will be supported for an 8-week experience at a research university or government laboratory, or field station. Our first two cohorts currently are completing their Sophomore and first year, respectively; to date, 75% of the students in the first cohort and 100% of the students in the second cohort have declared/are pursuing a STEM major. Our third cohort currently is being recruited.

Poster Information

  • ID: UR-5-05
  • Disciplinary Focus: Science