STEM Central

A Community of Practice for NSF STEM Projects

Mathematics as a FirstSTEP to Success in STEM

MTSU's FirstSTEP project is improving retention in STEM for at-risk students by combining several best practices for STEM education including a summer mathematics bridge program, required mathematics supplemental instruction, intrusive advising, and an early undergraduate research in STEM.

The Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) FirstSTEP program focuses on retention of freshman and sophomore Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) majors who do not have a strong background in mathematics prior to enrolling at MTSU. FirstSTEP recruits a cohort of up to 50 STEM majors whose mathematics ACT is between 19 and 23, inclusive, and provides these students with a set of experiences to help prepare them for success in STEM. Activities focus on mathematics preparation but include life and college skills as well. Before they begin their freshman year in college, the cohort spends two weeks in a summer mathematics bridge program that assesses and addresses their deficiencies in mathematics. Believing that providing context for learning is important, students also learn how mathematics is used in their discipline. During the Fall and Spring semesters of their freshman and sophomore years, each student enrolls in a one-credit pass/fail seminar to help them stay on track in mathematics and to learn skills for being successful in life and college. As a part of these seminars, the participants also complete required tutoring in mathematics each week. The students are engaged in an in-depth, introductory, team-based research experience in the summer before their sophomore year to provide a deeper understanding of one STEM area. The PIs observed positive changes in the participants’ subject knowledge, research ability, and self-discipline by the end of their summer introductory research experience. This project has collected data on the effectiveness of the mathematics summer bridge, the academic year seminars, and the summer introductory research experience to assess students’ progress toward improved retention in STEM. Data will also be presented on how these project components improve the students’ motivation and academic success. The ultimate goal of this project is to improve STEM graduation rates at MTSU.

Lead Author

  • Tom Cheatham


Name Organization
Brittany Smith Middle Tennessee State University
Jennifer Yantz Middle Tennessee State University
Donald Nelson Middle Tennessee State University
Chris Stephens Middle Tennessee State University
Elaine Bouldin Tenpenny Middle Tennessee State University
Ginger Holmes Rowell Middle Tennessee State University

Institution Information

  • Name: Middle Tennessee State University
  • State: TN

Poster Information

  • ID: BP-008
  • Disciplinary Focus: Math
  • Award Number: 0969571
  • Project Year 3