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STEM Transfer Success: The Value of Critical Reflection and Shared Responsibility


The EvoLLLution | STEM Transfer Success: The Value of Critical Reflection and Shared Responsibility
It is critical for higher education institutions to develop pathways that allow under-represented and underserved students to access the high-quality programming that will provide them a stepping stone to economic mobility.

Since 2011, UMBC has embarked on an ambitious journey to identify, examine, and address the issues facing transfer students. As part of this process, we launched two new projects. The first project, the STEM Transfer Student Success Initiative, is focused on the creation of local institutional partnerships to support the success of students in transition, as well as the subsequent development of a national model of collaboration between two-year and four-year institutions. The second project is the T-SITE scholars program, which targets academically talented transfer students in engineering and computing who demonstrate financial need, with an emphasis on supporting women and other under-represented groups. These projects illustrate the potential of collaborative relationships to improve academic success, increase retention in STEM majors and decrease time to graduation.

The STEM Transfer Student Success Initiative is an innovative inter-institutional collaboration funded by a $2.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As the recipient of the grant, UMBC has partnered with Anne Arundel Community College, The Community College of Baltimore County, Howard Community College and Montgomery College to support the successful transition to UMBC by STEM students from these partner institutions. The comprehensive and systematic work of this initiative focuses on five key outcomes:

  • Curricular alignment of selected foundational STEM courses
  • Academic and career advisement
  • Pre- and post-transfer success guides
  • Peer networks/mentorship
  • Institutional collaboration

In order to advance the transfer process, teams of inter- and intra-institutional faculty and staff work together to discuss the range and variation of their practices (e.g., expectations and structures for orientation), to establish complementary practices (e.g., early career experiences) and to develop strategic practices that help students navigate differences (e.g., types of assessments). Based on their content expertise and experience with students, these teams also create online materials, and implement face-to-face programming to support student success. The Initiative’s continuously growing website showcases the services, resources and tools created by these teams. While selected content is tailored toward the partner institutions, the materials are intentionally developed to support students who transfer between any two-year and four-year institution.

The T-SITE scholars program supports a total of 28 transfer students through an S-STEM grant from the National Science Foundation. The program is implemented within the scholar model of UMBC’s Center for Women in Technology (CWIT). CWIT is dedicated to increasing the representation of women in engineering and information technology fields through its scholars and affiliates programs for undergraduate students, outreach activities to high schools, and efforts to improve computing and engineering education. Scholars receive academic success training; engage in peer, faculty and industry mentoring; and participate in professional development activities.

Over three years, UMBC has awarded 19 T-SITE scholarships of $6,700 to transfer students from Maryland community colleges, and a final cohort of 9 will begin in Fall 2015. Current T-SITE scholars, all of whom have been retained in engineering or computing majors, maintain an average cumulative GPA of 3.4 and graduate in an average of three years. In total, 85 percent have obtained internships or participated in undergraduate research. These exceptional results demonstrate the positive impact of:

  • High quality pre- and post-transfer advising, faculty mentoring and information about their academic major;
  • Community support and peer mentoring; and
  • Participation in a first-semester transition seminar that proactively addresses the typical challenges faced by transfer students.

T-SITE scholars have these supports as members of the greater CWIT community, but are expected, from day one, to take responsibility for defining and achieving their own academic and professional goals. We have used the knowledge gained from working with these 19 T-SITE scholars to inform the content of the post-transfer online curriculum on the STEM Transfer Initiative’s website. T-SITE scholars are a highly visible group and they have begun to change and influence the conversation within the college about transfer student issues for engineering and computing majors. While highly effective, scholars programs like CWIT are typically small, highly selective, high-touch and high-cost interventions targeting incoming freshmen. Our challenge is to find cost-effective and transformational ways to scale up and institutionalize the T-SITE experience for over 650 transfer students who enter our College of Engineering and Information Technology annually at UMBC.

This is the first of a two-part series by Martin and Jewett reflecting on the process of creating mechanisms to improve the success of traditionally under-served students in STEM fields. In the next installment, they share some of the lessons learned while creating their unique programs.

Martin and Jewett will be sharing further information on both of these projects at the 22nd National Conference on Students in Transition Conference, to be hosted in Baltimore in October 2015.

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