STEM Central

A Community of Practice for NSF STEM Projects

Lamar University Students Advancing through Involvement in Research Student Talent Expansion Program (STAIRSTEP)

Attracting, retaining, transitioning STEM students one STEP at the time

The STudents Advancing through Involvement in Research Student Talent Expansion Program (STAIRSTEP) at Lamar University is designed to increase the number of students receiving baccalaureate degrees in science. This project supports teams of 3-10 students directed by a faculty mentor in each of five disciplines: Computer Science (CS), Chemistry (CH), Earth and Space Science (ESS), Mathematics (MA), and Physics (PH). Each team works on a research project and participates in local recruiting events to increase interest in STAIRSTEP and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in general. This program targets “at-risk” students, including women, minorities, first-generation, and low-income students. STAIRSTEP seeks to increase the number of graduates in the short term by retaining these “at-risk” students in the STEM disciplines. STAIRSTEP seeks to increase the number of graduates in the long term by sharing information and passion for STEM with local high school, community college, and undecided Lamar students and with the community as a whole.

The STAIRSTEP Program has three major goals: (1) retain and develop at risk students in CS, CH, ESS, MA, and PH through an enriched research experience that includes mentoring, tutoring, and other support, and activities that are designed to dispel some of the misconceptions that make these fields unattractive; (2) help transition these students to graduate study or careers in science; and (3) attract more students to the fields through targeted recruiting functions. Project findings reflect the documentation of movement toward these goals.

We are far exceeding our goal of retaining 70% of STAIRSTEP participants in their majors, with 91.04% retained (61 out of 67 participants) as CH, CS, ESS, MA, and PH majors as of August, 2012. STAIRSTEP students have attained higher GPAs and lower drop in their major courses versus cohorts of students majoring in those disciplines in the three years prior to the grant. Students report that participation in STAIRSTEP has had a significant positive affect on their professional growth.

As of August, 2012, twenty-five STAIRSTEP students had graduated. STAIRSTEP’s goal is to transition at least 80% of these students to graduate study or careers in STEM within 6 months of graduation. Of the eighteen STAIRSTEP participants that had graduated more than six months prior to August, 2012, 83.3% were successfully transitioned into either graduate programs or STEM related employment. The current transition rate slightly exceeds our goal.

Since its inception, STAIRSTEP students and faculty have reached out to an average of about 1000 students, teachers, and community leaders each year through a wide variety of recruitment activities, including hosting on-campus tours, workshops and demonstrations in STEM; and participating in on-campus events like Open House and New Student Orientation, and off-campus events like road shows and career days at local high schools and community colleges.

From fall of 2008 to fall of 2012, First Time in College enrollments in the five STAIRSTEP disciplines increased 97% despite increased admission requirements effective in January of 2009 and January of 2011. During this same period, community college transfer enrollments in STAIRSTEP departments has fluctuated, with 2012 levels matching 2008 levels. Community College transfers remains a challenge, but we have reason to expect this situation to improve given new articulation agreements with several local community colleges and scholarships in Math, Computer Science and Physics targeting juniors and seniors. The number of majors in STAIRSTEP departments has grown steadily from 255 to 385, an increase of 51% since 2008. These increases in incoming students and majors coupled with our high retention rate of STAIRSTEP students are good indicators that we are making progress towards attaining our goal of increasing the number of graduates in our disciplines.

These achievements come only through the hard work and dedication of our team of STAIRSTEP faculty and students. Jennifer Daniel, faculty mentor in Math, serves as Associate Director of STAIRSTEP and is in charge of community college outreach and budget issues. Cristian Bahrim, faculty mentor in Physics, is in charge of on-campus outreach activities. Joseph Kruger, faculty mentor in Earth and Space Sciences, is in charge of off-campus outreach. Christopher Martin, faculty mentor in Chemistry, is in charge of advertising and the website. Judith Mann is Director of STAIRSTEP assessment. Administrative Associate Harvilynne McNeel assists with administrative tasks. Peggy Doerschuk, faculty mentor in Computer Science, is Director of STAIRSTEP. All of us work as a team, and teamwork is the key to the success of our program.

Lead Author

  • Peggy Doerschuk


Name Organization
Cristian Bahrim Lamar University
Jennifer Daniel Lamar University
Joseph Kruger Lamar University
Christopher Martin Lamar University
Judith Mann Lamar University

Institution Information

  • Name: Lamar University
  • State: TX

Poster Information

  • ID: WM-006
  • Disciplinary Focus: Science
  • Award Number: 0757057
  • Project Year 5+