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Merit-Based Immersion for Students and Teachers

Undeclared students who participate in the Merit Program at the U of I are more likely to graduate with a STEM degree.

0622573 Steven C. Zimmerman, Deanna M. Raineri, Gretchen Adams, Tracey Hickox, and Jennifer McNeilly, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Merit-Based Immersion Project for Students and Teachers

This project permits the expansion and integration of the highly successful Merit Program, which has been used at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for over a decade. The original target population in the mathematics, chemistry and integrative biology departments includes "high-potential but at-risk" students from among traditionally under-represented groups as well as rural students. The MIST project has three objectives: 1) To broaden the student base to include the large proportion of students who have not declared their major (undeclared), as well as increasing access among the original target group. 2) To train current and future teachers at the college and high school levels to implement their own Merit-style programs. 3) To develop readily accessible on-line resources and discussion boards for Merit students and for professionals trained by the project. This online resource, at www.merit.illinois.edu, also includes information for prospective students and their parents.

With 5 years of data collected, we have graduation rates for two cohorts and major declaration information for three cohorts. Within Cohort 1, 204 undeclared freshmen entered the Merit Program in Fall 2007 and 48.5% of those have graduated with a STEM degree. In contrast, only 32.4% of the comparison group (537 non-Merit undeclared participants) have graduated with a STEM degree. Similarly, Cohort 2 (began in Fall 2008) includes 226 undeclared freshmen that entered the program in Fall 2008 and 36.7% of those have graduated with a STEM degree. By comparison, only 24.5% of the 555 non-Merit undeclared students have graduated with a STEM degree. Cohort 3 includes 234 undeclared freshmen that entered the program in Fall 2009.Within Cohort 3, 216 have declared a major and 120 of those (55.5%) chose a STEM major. Within our comparison group of 626 undeclared freshmen, 566 have declared a major but only 260 (45.9%) chose a STEM major. Cohort 4 includes 262 undeclared freshmen that entered the program in Fall 2010. Within Cohort 4, 181 have declared a major and 89 of those (49.2%) chose a STEM major. Within our comparison group of 564 undeclared freshmen, 391 have declared a major but only 159 (40.7%) chose a STEM major. All four cohorts exceed our expectations and differences among the groups were significant (p < 0.01) for Cohorts 1 and 2.

Merit students enrolled in significantly more STEM courses, and more courses in general, than those students who were not in Merit. For the undeclared-major samples, the mean number of STEM courses for Merit students was statistically higher (p < 0.001 for Cohorts 1-5) than the respective average of non-Merit individuals. Significant differences in the total courses were evident as well. Merit students accrued significantly more STEM course credits and more total credit hours than those students who were not in Merit. For the undeclared-major samples, the mean number of STEM credit hours for Merit students was statistically higher (p < 0.001 for Cohorts 1-5) than the respective average of non-Merit individuals. Significant differences in the total credits were evident as well. Disaggregated ethnic group and gender data also showed that Merit students in those groups earned more STEM credits than their non-Merit counterparts. Merit students earned higher grade point averages (GPAs) in STEM courses than students who were not in Merit. In most cases, Merit students had higher average STEM GPAs than those who did not participate in the program. These average GPA differences were significantly higher for Cohort 5, but not Cohort 1-4 of the undeclared students.

In the most recent surveys of students, the key influences motivating participation in Merit were: better performance in their courses, small group setting using small group learning techniques, and additional structured study time. We also learned that 75% of the students credited the worksheets, created by the Merit TAs, for their improved understanding of the course content. Over 80% of the students indicated that the Merit Program resulted in better exam scores.

We have held five Summer Teacher Workshops (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 & 2012) with 193 total participants. A significant number (~60%) of the participants have attended these workshops as part of a team. The results from the follow-up survey for the July 2011 workshop participants were extremely encouraging. A majority (73.7%) of the teachers reported that they had changed the instructional strategies used in the classroom, and most credited the 2011 Merit Summer Teacher Workshop as the catalyst for their pedagogical adjustments (including using more critical thinking questions and small groups). Teachers also reported an increased confidence or comfort level with: 1) dealing with differing student opinions and 2) conducting class discussions about students’ collected data or observations.

Lead Author

  • Steven C. Zimmerman

Institution Information

  • Name: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • State: IL

Poster Information

  • ID: LC-006
  • Disciplinary Focus: All STEM
  • Award Number: 0622573
  • Project Year 5+