PRISM: Positive Routes Into Science and Mathematics
The Alma College PRISM project, Positive Routes Into Science and Mathematics, is designed to increase the number of STEM graduates through a positive retention program that creates a first-year STEM learning community and engages students by a focus on undergraduate research in the first year of study. This learning community is based upon a progressive series of freshman seminars and research opportunities. Selected STEM students are invited to participate in a summer research experience prior to their freshman year. All potential STEM enrollees will be invited to begin their PRISM experience with a pre-term PRISM seminar that occurs during the week long orientation session held for all new students preceding the start of the fall term. PRISM seminars will continue in the fall and winter terms. These seminars are especially designed to engage students in scientific inquiry and to introduce them to the excitement and opportunities available in the natural sciences. Alma's unique four-week spring term is being used to offer PRISM inquiry-based courses that are designed to provide direct laboratory and field research experience. STEM students may then apply for a summer research opportunity under the direction of a faculty member. In addition to the PRISM Program, curricular changes, especially at the freshman level, are being made to introduce innovative improvements in teaching and learning in the STEM classroom and laboratory. A college-wide PRISM research community has been created to support research efforts at a variety of levels involving students and faculty mentors. To attract students and faculty into the research community and extend the reach of PRISM, high school teachers, along with some of their best rising seniors, are being invited to participate in summer research teams. High school students entering Alma are recruited into the PRISM program by engaging them in research activities and by creating an exciting vision of joining a STEM learning community that focuses on undergraduate research as soon as they walk onto Alma College's campus. This design of this project has developed by a variety of campus constituents and from expert advice received by faculty members employed on other campuses. Few colleges are currently offering research opportunities to first year students. The Alma College PRISM program (either selective aspects or in its entirety) has the potential for becoming a model for other colleges and universities, especially small liberal arts colleges.