Science Technology Engineering and Math
James Madison University partnered with Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC), Bridgewater College (BC), Eastern Mennonite University (EMU),SRI Inc., and the Shenandoah Valley Partnership to address the challenges of building additional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related major enrollments and retaining students to program completion. The National Science Foundation awarded the partners ~$2.5 million to meet this goal. The focus for Bridging the Valley: A STEP Ahead for STEM Majors, was to increase the number of STEM related majors at the four institutions from 2009-2014 by coordinating programs designed to:
- Help students gain a jump start to college by strengthening their science and math skills through participation in a 3 week residential program prior to the start of college
- Better integrate students into the college environment and their STEM discipline through interactions with STEM faculty and upper class students through participation in a Collaborative Learning Club (CLC)
- Bridge the gap from classroom to career by exposing student to STEM-related occupations
- Train faculty and administrators by hosting STEM focused educational workshops
After five years of implementing the various components of the Bridging the Valley program, STEM recruiting and retention has improved at all four institutions. The number of STEM majors has increased by more than ~50% on each campus. Focusing on students whose prior academic record suggested they would not persist to a STEM degree, we were able to retain nearly 70% of these students in STEM majors. A number of students have already graduated with STEM degrees and many more are on track to graduate in the next few years. The combination of the summer workshop and the school year collaborative learning club proved to be powerful motivators to help students surmount the obstacles that STEM study presented.
After completing a 3 week residential workshop, students reported that they felt better prepared for the rigors of college STEM coursework due to the focus on mathematics, and felt more comfortable about the transition to college after meeting peers and familiarizing themselves with the college environment. The CLC experience helped ease the transition to college by providing an opportunity to get to know other STEM students, preparing students for STEM courses, and thus improving their first semester grades. Students also reported that the program provided social benefits and encouraged the development of friendships for social support.