Increasing Retention of Under-represented Minority Students in Engineering: The Diversity Programs Office - Scholars Program (DPO-SP)

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Subashini Sivakumar, Claudia E Vergara, Theodore Caldwell, Kyle Foster, Lisa Henry Rickey Caldwell, Tonisha Shanks-Lane
The College of Engineering at Michigan State University has developed a program that addresses impediments faced by students from economically disadvantaged areas. Students from low socio-economic areas are recruited by DPO to take part in a summer bridge experience that includes academic pre-classes and social network building. The capacity of the summer bridge program was initially 30 students per year and in 2013-2014 cohort, its capacity has expanded to 50 students per year. The program includes a rigorous set of math tutorials and focused work sessions - all done in the social context of a learning community. Most of the summer bridge students who matriculate to Michigan State University in engineering will flow directly into the DPO Scholars Program (DPO-SP). Established in Fall 2009, DPO-SP is an academic yearlong program funded internally by Michigan State University; it incorporates components and activities designed to provide a structured social and academic support system for academically at risk first year students. The structure of the program represents a successful model to retaining undergraduate engineering and more generally STEM students. Two critical factors differentiate the SP from a number of previously implemented initiatives: • Each cohort is offered a two-year program. This allows the DPO to provide a solid support structure for each participant during the two most critical years of a college student’s experience. • All components of the program are mandatory: A student cannot opt out of one component and still participate. Students who successfully complete the first year of the program are awarded a $1000 scholarship and placement in a summer residential research assistant position. This research assistant appointment provides a $1,100-$3,500 stipend, as well as an opportunity for students to connect with faculty much faster than if they waited until their junior year or upon acceptance into their college. Connection with faculty is another critical piece of a retention initiative. During the second year, the students would continue with all program initiatives, but they would also serve as peer mentors for the cohort that will begin SP that same fall semester. A pre and post administration of Michigan State University math placement test showed an impressive boost in the placement of students who were initially placed in the zero-credit mathematics course: • For Cohort ’12, (17 students), 88% scored higher on the Math Placement Exam. • For Cohort ’13, (41 students), of the MTH 1825 starters, 79% moved up at least one math class, of the MTH 103 starters, 100% moved up at least one math class, of the MTH 116 starters, 42% moved up to MTH 132, of the total cohort, 94% increased their score on the Math Placement Exam, 70% moved up at least one math class; the average score increase was 44%. In this poster we will describe the structure of the program and discuss our findings including the program evaluation results focusing on two main aspects, academic and social. We will present the short and long-term impacts that the program and its components have on participants and discuss our efforts to extend the program to include other academic units within Michigan State University.

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