Foundations for STEM Success: Implementing National Best Practices in a Liberal Arts College Setting

Project No.
PI Name
Marc Veletzos
Merrimack College

Abstract 1

Foundations for STEM Success: Implementing National Best Practices in a Liberal Arts College Setting

Presentation Type
Marc Veletzos, Merrimack College Mary Noonan, Merrimack College Cynthia McGowan, Merrimack College Maureen Sakakeeny, Merrimack College


The Presidentメs Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has indicated that the US Higher Education system needs to produce more graduates in STEM fields to maintain a competitive position in the global economy. Increasing retention in STEM fields has been identified as an efficient approach to achieve these objectives. The Foundation for STEM Success (FS2) program is a model for STEM student success that uses a student-centered approach to academic preparation and learning, and creates an integrated institutional network of supports that increases studentsメ self-efficacy, sense of belonging to their major, and belief in the importance of their contributions to society. These are key factors that affect retention in STEM fields. The FS2 program focuses on engineering and computer science (CS) majors and was designed to improve retention and graduation rates.


The primary goals of this five year project are to: increase first year retention to 80% by Year 3; increase second year retention to 71% by Year 3, and; increase the five-year graduation rate to 65% by Year 5. To accomplish the project goals the FS2 program is divided into four initiatives: (1) a summer intensive program; (2) a revised gateway course for engineering and CS majors, (3) a peer and faculty mentor/tutoring program, and (4) affinity housing.


The FS2 program initiatives are aimed at first year students and support studentsメ adjustment to the challenges and rigors of a high quality academic program and involve upper-class students and faculty from engineering and CS. The program initiatives contribute to studentsメ: academic preparation and self-efficacy, particularly in first year mathematics courses; sense of belonging to a major and social integration within an academic community, and; belief that the targeted majors contribute to society. These are key factors that have been shown to affect retention in STEM fields.


The FS2 project is currently in its second year and has engaged a total of 215 first year engineering and CS students. Preliminary results indicate that first year retention is 71% for gateway course participants, 83% for summer bridge participants and 87% for affinity housing participants. This is an improvement over the baseline first year retention of 67%, and suggests that the summer bridge and the affinity housing initiatives increased retention by 24% and 30%, respectively.

Broader Impacts

The FS2 project elements have been piloted at large public institutions, and this project expands their application and assesses their effectiveness within a smaller Liberal Arts college setting. The project strengthens the infrastructure for providing services for pre-freshman and matriculated students by fostering collaborations between faculty and students and students and their peers. The project is expected to increase the number of engineering and CS graduates and accelerate their progress toward completing their degree and will make significant positive contributions to the Massachusetts STEM workforce and the new global economy. The results will provide a rich assessment of approaches to retention that can be applied to all STEM disciplines, and will be disseminated through academic journals, the general media, and via presentations at academic, industry, and governmental conferences.

Unexpected Challenges

Nothing noteworthy at this time