COMPASS (Co-Ordinated Math and Physics Assessment for Student Success)

Project No.
PI Name
Michael Ramsdell
Clarkson University

Abstract 1

COMPASS (Co-Ordinated Math and Physics Assessment for Student Success)

Presentation Type
Michael Ramsdell, Clarkson University Kelly Black, University of Georgia Guangming Yao, Clarkson University


The COMPASS program supports a national initiative to retain STEM majors, helping students successfully navigate through their first year. Often universities have initiatives to address the 'high risk' (under-prepared) group and create stimulating and challenging experiences for the 'low risk' (well prepared) group. We addresses the large majority of 'medium risk' (somewhat prepared) students by leveraging these students' relative strengths in one area (math or physical intuition' to motivate development of the other. This approach maps effective educational pathways through first year STEM courses tailored to specific studentsメ needs.


The goals of the COMPASS program are 1) Retention of students in the STEM fields; 2) Effective identification of students' preparedness for the first year STEM experience; 3) Improvement of student achievement in introductory STEM courses; 4) Development of a replicable model for strategically addressing student needs. COMPASS students experience a predictive modeling exercise of a physical system formulated as semester long projects and topics taught in calculus are reordered to support the physics curriculum.


The COMPASS program is designed to identify student needs prior to enrollment. Using a conceptual physics survey to gauge physical intuition coupled with a mathematics diagnostic instrument, we measure pre-entrance preparedness to identify the strengths and weaknesses of our newest STEM majors. The program builds on existing courses grounded in educational research and provides an easily adaptable retention strategy accessible to a wide range of institutions. Student teams are directed through the exploration of a complex physical system and proceed through the analysis through related aspects of the system. Students develop a strong analytic component as they develop a mathematical model for characterizing the whole system. The culminating experience at the end of the semester includes a mini-competition involving the prediction of outcomes of multiple challenges. One faculty and one teaching assistant from both physics and math meet weekly to monitor the studentsメ progress through the project.


We expect to boost the overall performance of the students by taking advantage of their relative strength in physical intuition and mechanics. The goal of creating materials and classroom practices that build on physical principles is to push the students toward deeper mathematical analysis. This follows from a more natural migration of their current conceptual understanding for the development and analysis of the calculus content. The assessment and evaluation will include interviews and case studies of students as well as overall student performance.

Broader Impacts

The COMPASS program has developed strategies specifically designed to address the retention rates of undergraduate students in STEM disciplines. Students are placed in a program designed to build on their personal strengths in a way to support them in the development of other key academic areas.

Unexpected Challenges

Reorganizing the calculus topics to better align with the timing of similar physics topics has been a greater challenge then originally anticipated. Project instructors from both courses meet 1 to 2 times per week to continually monitor how the students are progressing through the course material and projects.