CSU hosts national STEM study

Colorado State University is participating in a $4.3 million national Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) study starting Monday and going through Oct. 31 to better understand why students are leaving science majors. 

The study is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and students are encouraged to participate. Those who are interviewed will be compensated $20 for their time. 

This is a follow up to a study done nearly 20 years ago resulting in the book “Talking about Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences” by Elaine Seymour and Nancy M. Hewitt.

“This original study went and talked to all these students about why they left their majors,” said Anne-Barrie Hunter, co-director of the study. “Twenty years later we are looking at the rate students are leaving their majors.”

They found that most students were leaving due to poor teaching and learning experiences. This discovery spurred a national movement to improve the quality of learning. 

Despite efforts to improve science teaching, these rates have not changed. The Obama Administration released a report stating that if universities can retain 10 percent of the students who leave these majors, the future workforce needs could be met.

Using the same sample, the CSU student body, as well as at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, the STEM study team will explore reasons why students are switching in and out of these majors. 

“There are two different teams that are coming to campus,” Hunter said. “The Persistent Study team, I’m working on that one, and the Gateway Course Taking Study, a team that is going to come and interview the professors teaching an introductory STEM class.”

The team will first interview the professor about their teaching methods. Then they will observe the class twice while taking notes on a form, checking off certain things.

“Then the next thing is to hold focus groups for students in those classes to hear about their experiences from the class, what their learning and how the teachers are approaching this,” Hunter said.

Lastly the students will fill out a survey, created by Elaine Seymour, asking them to assess their own learning.

To get involved with the study, students can contact the group at talkingaboutleaving@gmail.com

This article was published in The Collegian October 21, 2014.

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