FORCE: Focus on Occupations, Recruiting, Community, and Engagement
This project is increasing retention rates of freshmen who declare a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) major from less than 30% to over 60% and increasing the number of undergraduates (freshmen and transfer students) who complete a bachelor's degree in STEM at the university from a four-year mean of about 120 to about 180. The main thesis of the project is that a focus on STEM related career opportunities and the pathways to obtain them will be of particular benefit to those students not yet declaring their majors and entering freshmen who declare their intent to major in STEM fields but are at risk of dropping out of that major. The project is engaging faculty, upper classmen and alumni in efforts to interest students in and inform them about STEM careers. Intellectual Merit: Activities include: (1) personal invitations to potential majors to consider a STEM degree path; (2) a learning community targeting pre-calculus students and centered around a new course introducing students to a breadth of STEM degree and career trajectories; (3) the growth of a residential learning community; (4) deliberate and pro-active horizontal and vertical networking of STEM majors (and alumni) through events, a portal to connect STEM majors to STEM jobs on campus, and web-based social networking tools; (5) building a cadre of student ambassadors who represent the STEM disciplines as peer tutors, recruiters, and emissaries at events; and (6) expanding participation in undergraduate research projects. These activities are based on gender equity, STEP and other funded work at the University of Oklahoma investigating effective mechanisms to increase retention and graduation rates in (STEM) majors and a recent on-campus survey to determine why students dropped out of STEM majors or did not consider them as an option as they entered the university. The interdisciplinary within STEM aspect of this project is enabling students who had not previously considered a STEM major and those who become uncertain about their decisions and options to seek an optimal match within STEM instead of (or at least before) leaving STEM altogether. Broader Impact. The interdisciplinary approach underscores the power of cross-department partnership so that other institutions might consider such a unified approach. The literature suggests that the proposed activities will benefit all STEM majors: women in male-dominated fields, men in general, and other marginalized populations such as first-generation students.