Arlington Undergraduate Research-based Achievement for STEM (AURAS)
The Colleges of Science and Engineering are collaborating to increase retention of incoming first-time first-semester freshmen in these colleges by 15%, to produce a total of about 100 additional STEM graduates per year. The goal of the Arlington Undergraduate Research-based Achievement for STEM (AURAS) is to use research-based approaches and best practices to increase the retention of STEM majors, particularly women and minorities. Strategies being used include (1) implementation of the recognized best-practice Emerging Scholars program in high-loss courses in math (specifically, Pre- and Calculus I) and chemistry (Chemistry for Engineers and General Chemistry) courses, and (2) undergraduate research opportunities ("authentic experiences") pairing first- and second-year undergraduates with faculty mentors in laboratory experiences. A significant correlation between mathematics performance/readiness and student retention in STEM fields has been established and is being targeted by these strategies. The impact of these programs is being evaluated, especially the use of Emerging Scholars techniques at the pre-Calculus level and the use of authentic experiences at this early stage of students' academic careers. The intellectual merit of the proposed activity is that it is grounded in current research on the causes of attrition among STEM majors. A previous assessment of those factors among STEM students at the institution has determined the interventions to be used in this project. Attrition among engineering and science majors at this institution and elsewhere occurs largely in the first two years. If successful in improving retention in this large public, urban university, the combination of an intensive focused-study program in high-loss introductory science and math courses for STEM students and subsequent authentic experiences motivating students for STEM study could be applied at other institutions. The evaluation plan will determine the effectiveness of these components in increasing retention. The components, if successful, are expected to become self-supporting by the end of the funding period. A contribution to the Emerging Scholars body of knowledge at the Precalculus level is another merit of this program. The broader impact of this project is twofold. First, the primary target population for increased retention is first-year college students that graduated from high school in the majority minority school districts of Arlington, Grand Prairie, Dallas and Ft. Worth, TX; thus the increased retention is expected to be in those groups that are under-represented in STEM fields. These graduates are expected to be exceptionally well prepared with significant authentic research and work experiences that will help in their careers or post-graduate education. Second, the results of this project will be disseminated widely at national conferences and in the scientific and educational literature, contributing to the body of best practices that can be adopted elsewhere.