REVISION: Implementing "Vision and Change" Increases Student Aspirations for STEM Degrees

Saturday, February 13, 2016
R Deborah Overath, Del Mar College, Corpus Christi, TX
Background:Increasingly, studies show that “traditional” methods of teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) discourage rather than encourage students to choose continue in STEM disciplines. As recommended in “Vision and Change,” an important aspect of our program, REVISION, is to engage students in research both as part of our two-course introductory biology and introductory biotechnology sequences and, for some, a summer research internship. Methods:The course-based research experience is part of the HHMI’s SEA-PHAGE (Science Education Alliance Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science) program, in which students isolate novel, soil-born phages and then analyze their genomes. Students took SEA-PHAGE surveys about attitudes and experiences early in the fall and then again at the end of the spring semester.  The post-course survey also included questions concerning specific benefits that the students perceived.  Summer research internships took place at various partner colleges, universities, and institutes.  To assess the impact of these experiences, we surveyed students for perceived benefits and gains, as well as current status. All surveys (both SEA-PHAGE and our summer internship surveys) employed a 5-point scale. Results:Student responses to course-based research were overwhelming positive.  For example, students perceived large gains (mean 4.45 for 25 course elements) in their abilities to take exams, maintain a lab notebook, and read primary scientific research materials. Students also perceived that they made large gains, including “clarification of career path,” “readiness for more demanding research,” and “understanding how scientists think” (mean of 4.25 for 21 learning gains).  Interestingly, more students indicated an interest in post-graduate work in STEM fields in the post-course survey. Summer research students also perceived large gains.  For example, 82% agreed or strongly agreed that their internship experience helped them clarify their career path and 91% felt ready for more demanding research.  In addition, > 80% agreed or strongly agreed that they also gained important interpersonal skills, including working in a team and time management, as well as life skills such as perseverance and working under stress.  Finally, before their summer experience, 55% planned to go onto graduate school, but afterwards all planned to do so. Conclusions: Clearly, both course-based and summer research experiences increase student aspirations to continue in STEM fields.