STEM@SU: A portfolio approach to increase recruitment, retention and graduation of STEM majors at Salisbury University.

Project No.
PI Name
Karen Olmstead
Salisbury University

Abstract 1

STEM@SU: A portfolio approach to increase recruitment, retention and graduation of STEM majors at Salisbury University.

Presentation Type
Karen Olmstead, Salisbury University Kristen Paul, Salisbury University Matthew Bailey, Salisbury University Michael Bardzell, Salisbury University Kathleen Shannon, Salisbury University Melissa Stoner. Salisbury University Tom Jones, Salisbury University Brent Zaprowski, Salisbury University


Our project was consistent with the overall goal of the NSF STEP program to increase the number of graduates from STEM majors. We used a portfolio approach to build enrollment, retain students and promote student success in five targeted majors.


As noted above, the primary goal of Bridges for SUCCESS was aligned with that of the STEP program: to increase the number of graduates in selected STEM disciplines. We exceeded our goal of increasing graduates by 75% in five years through several strategies to increase the recruitment, retention, preparation, and engagement of targeted STEM majors. Our project was been successful through activities directly supported by the STEP award as well as through the energy and focus on STEM majors that NSF funding has created on our campus.


We achieved our goal to increase STEM graduates through several strategies to increase the recruitment, retention,
preparation, and engagement of Chemistry, Computer Science, Earth Science, Mathematics, and Physics majors:
1) engaging pre-college students in STEM majors and careers through outreach programs; 2) creating excitement
about our programs through more effective marketing and distinctive programming; 3) increasing access for
community college students through curriculum coordination and transfer student support; and 4) supporting and
engaging STEM majors throughout their academic careers through a living-learning community, early research
experiences and an applied research course.


Direct impacts of the STEP award were the resources to bring prospective students in contact with our programs and faculty; develop an effective brand for STEM@SU; and support students early and late in their academic programs. Rather than a single ムcritical element,メ our portfolio approach has allowed us to reach and support students at several points along their STEM pathways. We would not have been able to launch several of these initiatives without STEP funding and STEP funding allowed us to pilot other project components. As a result of these efforts, we increased enrollments by 68% and graduates by 94% in our targeted majors in just five years. Next steps include institutionalizing program elements and building internal and external support (through the Salisbury University Foundation) for some of these projects.

Broader Impacts

Receiving a competitive STEP award demonstrated to science and math faculty and upper administration that our strategies to grow STEM graduates were sound. This vetting by NSF allowed us to work more effectively with campus faculty as well as leadership in Academic Affairs, Admissions, University Advancement, Institutional Research, and Finance and Administration. The campus-wide focus on STEM that was in part generated by the STEP award resulted in the annual allocation of $320,000 for scholarships for STEM majors (reallocation of campus funds to create more competitive scholarships for STEM students). Our results have been disseminated through annual STEP meetings, STEP Central Webinar and STEM Central as well as other conferences.

Unexpected Challenges

Our most significant challenge has been the surge in enrollments in our targeted majors (up > 65% since project began) as well as STEM majors overall (up 26% since project began). These burgeoning enrollments have created staffing and space challenges which we are endeavoring to address. Also, our project involved several components which we have worked hard to manage and to develop mechanisms to sustain them after the grant ends. This has pushed us toward more aggressive friend- and fund-raising, which ultimately, will be beneficial to all STEM majors at Salisbury University.


Two online resources have been developed to date that relate to the work on this project.

1) STEM Central Project Coordination and Management Working Group (PI serves as lead for this group;

2) Bibliography of STEM Education-related publications (

3) Wang, X., 2012: モA Curriculum Coordination Project for Computer Science Transferヤ, Proceedings of International Conference on Frontiers in Education: Computer Science and Computer Engineering, Las Vegas, Nevada, July 16-19, 2012, 91 - 96.

4) Wang, X. and J. Souders, 2011: モImproving Debugging Education through Applied Learningヤ, The Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges, Vol. 27, No. 3, January, 2012, 138-145.

There are other publications from research involving undergraduates, but these are related to discovery research projects rather than the STEP project itself.

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