STEM Central

A Community of Practice for NSF STEM Projects

RU STEPed Up for Success: Retaining Women and Minorities in STEM

First year learning communities designed to support at-risk students based on mathematics placements also have a positive impact on women and underrepresented minority students, as measured by the rates at which women and minority students declare STEM majors.

RU-STEPed Up for Success is a set of cohesive programs designed to increase the number of students receiving baccalaureate degrees from Rutgers University – New Brunswick in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). RU-STEPed Up for Success recruits STEM majors from under-represented groups (women and minorities) and improves retention through summer bridge experiences, academic support, and mentoring. Program offerings include the AIMS (Achievement in Math and Science) residential and non-residential learning communities for first-year students in precalculus or intermediate algebra, Rosalind Franklin House (RFH) living-learning community for first and second year women majoring in STEM, and Science Success Fast Track, residential and non-residential learning communities for transfer students. All learning communities include at least one linked course, and AIMS students are enrolled in the same sections of mathematics, writing, and the First Year Interest Group (FIGS) “Exploring Careers in the Sciences”. Science Success Fast Track students participated in the same “Students-In-Transition” seminar to ensure a smooth entry to Rutgers. All residential communities were provided appropriate tutoring (math, physics, organic chemistry, biology and writing workshops) and peer mentors in residence who provide programming, mentorship and guidance. Non-residential mentors are provided for the commuter and non-residential students in the programs, who are also included in programming and tutoring.

Although this STEP program focuses on first-year students who are placed at-risk in STEM disciplines because of low mathematics placement, recruitment concentrates on women and minority students because these are the groups where attrition from STEM majors is most marked. Although all of the STEP interventions for first year students (AIMS, RFH, Summer Bridge) are successful in retaining students at Rutgers and in STEM, and improving their academic success, these programs are especially effective in recruiting and supporting women and under-represented minority students. For example, the AIMS communities have enrolled almost 300 students, of whom 31% are under-represented minorities and 77% are women. This compares favorably to the profile of entering STEM majors, which is approximately 51% female and 20% minority. The AIMS learning communities have the greatest impact on women and minority students who place into mathematics at the pre-calculus level; for example, 75% of underrepresented minority students who placed into the one-semester precalculus sequence declared STEM majors, compared to 52% of the non-STEP minority STEM population. Similarly, 71% of women with the same placement declared STEM majors, compared to 50% of the general STEM population. Similarly, women and minority students who complete the first semester of precalculus in Summer Bridge declare STEM majors at higher rates than the non-STEP STEM population. Interventions are less successful in retaining students who place at the algebra level in STEM, although those students do succeed in their algebra courses at higher rates. We believe that many of these students become discouraged in their second year, as they face more rigorous mathematics courses with less support. A preliminary analysis of “roadblock” courses indicates that many students stop taking STEM courses in their third and fourth semester, suggesting a need for continued interventions to further increase STEM majors, especially among the students with lowest mathematics placement.

Lead Author

  • Kathleen Scott


Name Organization
Ghada Endick Rutgers University
R. Michael Beals Rutgers University
Issata Saccoh Rutgers University

Institution Information

  • Name: Rutgers University - New Brunswick/Piscataway
  • State: NJ

Poster Information

  • ID: WM-008
  • Disciplinary Focus: All STEM
  • Award Number: 0756879
  • Project Year 5+