National Science Foundation grant awarded to support development of a STEM Passport

Interstate Passport Briefing
This is one of 7 articles in the May 2021 newsletter.

The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) and New Mexico State University (NMSU), in collaboration with its branch community colleges, have been awarded a National Science Foundation grant that will be the first step toward development of a STEM Passport. Specifically, WICHE and NMSU will use the $300,000 grant over a one-year period to test the feasibility of using sets of lower-division student learning outcomes (SLOs) as the basis of block transfer into engineering programs. Instead of accepting only specific courses when a student transfers, as most institutions currently do, students would be able to transfer lower-division courses mapped to the SLOs as a block into engineering programs.

When the natural science Passport Learning Outcomes were developed several years ago, a number of faculty members expressed the need for a Passport in STEM subject areas. This project will be the first to examine utilizing learning outcomes in a STEM field as a basis for block transfer to a baccalaureate degree path.

Research indicates that nearly half of STEM bachelor’s degree recipients attend a community college at some point in their college career and are often required to repeat courses when they transfer. These challenges are amplified for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds who may have difficulty navigating transfer in the face of complex university admission requirements.

WICHE and NMSU’s capacity-building project will lay the foundation for work that will lead to four broader impacts: 1) Improved transfer efficiency in engineering disciplines; 2) improved curriculums that result in improved student retention; 3) improved participation and persistence among students of color and students from low-income backgrounds in STEM; and 4) increased numbers of engineering graduates to contribute to the economy. Though the reform of transfer practices is challenging, WICHE and NMSU will encourage this work by leveraging mounting pressure for engineering programs to change in response to numerous external forces. Foremost among these forces are the lack of a sufficient number of engineering graduates to fill an expanding job market and the need for STEM degree programs to embrace greater numbers of historically underrepresented students.

To accomplish this work, NMSU will identify the student learning outcomes that are critical for students to complete a four-year electrical engineering degree and map those SLOs to visually depict their prerequisite course relationships and preferable course sequencing. The resulting SLO map will inform identification of a lower-division SLO block to simplify curricula, potentially improving degree progress and persistence for all students, not just transfer students. WICHE will conduct a literature review to further identify factors that inhibit transfers within STEM and engineering disciplines, and also recruit leaders of national organizations and two-year and four-year institutions representing at least four states to analyze and refine NMSU’s proof of concept and assess the feasibility of scaling NMSU’s work to additional institutions.

The project will be led by several principal investigators: Sarah Leibrandt, director of Academic Leadership Initiatives at WICHE, David Smith, associate provost for Curriculum and Assessment at NMSU, and Laura Boucheron, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at NMSU. According to Dr. Boucheron, this work will enhance student success by reducing time to degree, mitigating the effects of “bottleneck” courses and increasing student awareness of the interconnected nature of engineering topics.

Work on the NSF project began this spring. See press announcement here.

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