Machias Initiative for Science and Technology (MIST) to Transform Transition and First-Year STEM Experiences at the University of Maine at Machias
More than a quarter of UMM's students are of non-traditional age, over 40% of freshmen are first generation college attendees, and more than two-thirds of students qualify for Pell Grants. The demographics and economics of the region present important challenges in the effort to educate the STEM workforce in Downeast Maine. STEM majors at UMM lag behind with an average six-year graduation rate of just 23% for the last five cohorts. Through institutional research, we have identified first-to-second year retention as a key bottleneck for student success, a period where lack of preparation, economic challenges, and lack of confidence can overwhelm students' drive to succeed. The MIST Project is transforming the first year experience for STEM majors at UMM, using best practices to improve retention in that crucial year, focusing specifically on the needs of at-risk students.
The MIST Project is aimed at transforming the transition to college through enrollment in second-year courses phase of the educational pathway to increase the number of students persisting in UMM's STEM majors from their first to second years. The project has several initiatives aimed to improve student success and retention. The first initiative was the development of a bridge program aimed to improve the math competency of the incoming STEM students with weak math background. The second initiative was to increase the revise the first year biology sequence and incorporate more inquiry based activities and other best practices. The third initiative was the development of a Supplemental Instruction Program for STEM courses that are traditionally difficult.
Each activity of the project is aimed at a different phase of the students transition. The bridge program was developed with the aim to improve math readiness for students who placed into developmental math courses. After testing identified the gaps in knowledge, targeted instruction was provided to fill these knowledge gaps. The program also included sessions on developing a growth mindset so that students have the confidence that they can succeed, as well as sessions on study strategies and note taking skills.
The Supplemental Instruction Program uses peer facilitated group sessions to help students learn how to best learn the material. The SI program is targeted at the courses that are traditionally difficult in the STEM field.
During our first semester of incorporating SI, students who used the SI program were half as likely to end the course with a DFW. Students were not only more likely to succeed but students who used the SI had about a half letter grade higher final grade. Analysis of student feedback also demonstrated that students felt the SI sessions provided learning techniques they could apply to other courses as well.
The 9 day bridge program resulted in 67% of the students placing out of at least one development math course by the end of the program. Moreover, 33% of the students placed out of the developmental math sequence by skipping the equivalent of two semester long courses, simply by targeting the knowledge gaps. We are currently tracking these students to measure persistence and success in their subsequent math courses to ensure the student gains were long term.
As more students nationwide require remedial math instruction when they arrive at college, our results suggest that these students may be served by a short term course inculcated with learning strategies and help is developing the appropriate mindset. Our results are preliminary enough that broad dissemination has not happened yet.
One challenge that we are dealing with is the lack of student motivation to utilize some of the support structures we have put into place. We have been dealing with this by trying different advertisement and communication methods from Supplemental Instruction leader. We have been seeing a significant increase in student utilization through the year with promising results.