Extended Science Workshop Program
Northwestern University developed the Gateway Science Workshop (GSW) program to reduce the underachievement and increase the retention of students (especially minority students) in introductory science, engineering, and mathematics courses at the University. The program involves more than 600 students in 100 peer-facilitated, problem-focused workshops across 5 disciplines. It targets "gateway" science courses in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Math and Engineering. These are highly demanding, introductory-level courses that students must pass to major in STEM disciplines. This project is establishing an Extended Science Workshop (ESW) program to capitalize on the existing GSW infrastructure and expertise to establish a peer-facilitated workshop program in key second- and third-year courses: the Organic Chemistry 210 and 212 sequences as well as Biochemistry 309 and Cell Biology 315 sequences. These course sequences are required for chemistry and biology majors and typically have large enrollments, with 75 to 300 students per sequence. In the first year of the grant, the project team is launching the full ESW program in Organic Chemistry 210 and piloting the program in Organic Chemistry 212. In subsequent years the team is scheduled to pilot and fully implement the program in all (four) course sequences. At that point the project reaches its full level of activity, supporting 20 workshops in Organic Chemistry and 10 workshops in Biochemistry and Cell Biology, and impacting approximately 200 students per year. Throughout the period of the grant, the team is continuing to develop support structures both for peer facilitators who run the individual workshops and for the participating faculty who develop workshop problems and train facilitators in the required disciplinary knowledge. The management plan indicates this project is fully sustainable beyond the period of NSF support. This is to be achieved by fully embedding the ESW program within the institution by the end of the grant period. Intellectual Merit. While a number of programs exist at U.S. universities to help students in introductory STEM courses succeed, less attention has been paid to critical second-year courses. The program's research and evaluation efforts are advancing understanding of the theory and practice of implementing and institutionalizing small-group, problem-focused, peer-facilitated learning initiatives alongside the traditional science curriculum in higher education STEM disciplines. In particular, the team is examining not just the impact of the ESW program on students' grades and retention, but also examining the subjective experience of students enrolled in the program, an aspect of academic life that may be particularly important for students from underrepresented groups. The project has brought together a highly qualified team of scientists, educators, and administrators who are uniquely positioned to build on their six-year experience in the creation, evaluation, and continuous improvement of workshop-based, learning-centered initiatives for science students. Broader Impacts. Through its strategies to increase the graduation rate of highly skilled undergraduates in STEM disciplines, the ESW program is providing exceptional opportunities for students to develop more sophisticated approaches to studying, for peer mentors to hone facilitation skills and experience the fulfillment of teaching, and for participating faculty to rethink the way they approach teaching. Moreover, building on the success of GSW with students from underrepresented groups, the ESW program is helping to increase the numbers of minority students succeeding in STEM courses and remaining in the sciences. The program is also building interdepartmental relationships and a network of trained undergraduate leaders who are playing a key role in the program. The ESW team is building on existing knowledge and disseminating new knowledge through continued conference presentations and scholarly papers, in both education- and science-oriented forums.