STEM Central

A Community of Practice for NSF STEM Projects

PRIMES Launch: Connecting Implementation with Institutionalizaton

Christine V. Rich and Thomas R. Tretter. PRIMES is a tripartite cross-College collaboration – Arts & Sciences (A&S), Engineering, Education – that uses two complementary strategies to improve retention of our STEM undergraduate majors. The first strand develops, implements, and institutionalizes credit-bearing practicum offerings utilizing undergraduate teaching assistants (UTAs). The UTAs serve as the linchpin for a concerted effort to transform teaching and learning in introductory courses for STEM majors. The second strand focuses on community building activities… both discipline-specific and University-wide. Each strand is designed to increase faculty and student interactions and also to foster
In this first year of our project, we took the unorthodox approach of launching the project with a coordinated effort to institutionalize the practicum courses in participating A&S and Engineering departments. The rationale was simple: intercalation of the new Practicum course into a department’s curriculum serves as a visible ‘buy in’ by STEM faculty. It validates the value we place on peer-led mentoring and instruction and the pedagogical training in best practices that faculty and UTAs explore together. We had 100% success! Faculty in all nine departments, 5 in A&S and 4 in Engineering, approved the creation of graded, senior-level courses to house the Practicum. The respective College Curriculum Committees have followed suit and the new courses will be formally listed for Fall 2013. Interestingly, when the new courses reached the College Curriculum Committee in Engineering, the visibility of the project was heightened in an unforeseen way: engineering disciplines that opted originally not to participate expressed interest in joining this strand of the project.

Despite a short timeframe, we also decided to schedule a first offering of the Practicum (as Special Topics courses) for Spring 2012. Practicum faculty members from each department recruited, the 3-day training workshop syllabus was fully developed, and 49 STEM undergraduates from both Colleges enrolled. Post-workshop qualitative feedback from UTAs was largely positive. Feedback and training is ongoing as we bring this first cohort back for bimonthly seminars throughout their term. UTAs are currently leading formal recitations, laboratory sections, and more informal peer-group tutoring sessions for the freshman and sophomore levels. Depending on their assignment, they work with from 5 to 50 students. Instruments are under development for measuring the impact the UTAs have on the hundreds of novice STEM majors with whom they work. Initial emerging data suggest that our UTAs are developing effective working and mentoring relationships with our novice STEM learners, which offers promise for positive impact on the STEM degree trajectories of these learners.

Lead Author

Poster Information

  • ID: PS-3-24
  • Disciplinary Focus: Science