- Year 2023
- NSF Noyce Award # 1950191
- First Name Afra
- Last Name Hersi
- Discipline STEM Education (general)
Afra Hersi, Timothy Clark
The purpose of STEM-Network was to build capacity for recruitment and retention of future STEM teachers into Loyola’s STEM education programs. Although interest in STEM studies has grown at Loyola in recent years, concurrent growth in STEM education enrollment has stayed flat. The STEM-Network built capacity at a Jesuit liberal-arts university to train STEM pre-service teacher candidates in culturally responsive pedagogical practices that are critical to fostering grades 7-12 student learning in science and mathematics.
What STEM-education recruitment and retention strategies, including targeted efforts to students of color (SOC) and STEM professionals, are ideal for Loyola University Maryland? How can faculty test, disseminate and integrate active learning innovations in STEM and STEM-education courses? How can education departments, science departments, and local education agencies strengthen relationships and explore strategies to close the student-teacher diversity gap by supporting and retaining STEM teachers of color in high-needs schools?
In this project, we implemented a mixed-methods research framework to understand Loyola’s undergraduate student body through the lens of STEM and STEM education. Students were surveyed using the College Persistence Questionnaire and Reasons for Teaching Scale, after which quantitative analysis was performed. Focus groups were held as follow-ups for students who completed the survey. These methods allowed a broad analysis of the first-year student body and gave specific insights into their thinking about STEM and STEM teaching. The project also piloted a living-learning community for students interested in STEM and in STEM teaching. This community has persisted for several academic years and is our first point of contact for recruiting potential STEM teachers.
Loyola developed, piloted, and assessed several recruitment and retention strategies. Baseline data was collected from first-year students and STEM professionals, using the College Persistence Questionnaire and the Reasons for Teaching Scale (N=159). In addition, several first-year students were interviewed as part of follow-up focus groups. Findings from these quantitative and qualitative data indicate that building meaningful relationships is important for Loyola STEM undergraduates, that some degree of uncertainty exists among Loyola STEM undergraduates regarding their ability to complete their secondary teaching degrees, that Loyola STEM undergraduates see more intrinsic value in teaching than do students with non-STEM majors, and that Loyola students of color see more intrinsic value in teaching than do white students. Student responses to focus group questions indicated the importance of the sense of belonging that Loyola’s Messina first-year experience provides. Connecting STEM to the Jesuit undergraduate experience was identified as an area of growth. Surveys and assessment tools indicated a strong student need and faculty commitment to targeting, advising, and supporting STEM and STEM education interested students early in their Loyola careers. A successful pilot of a STEM Education learning community for first-year students laid the groundwork for an expansion of the Loyola first-year experience into more STEM subject areas and increased collaboration between education and STEM departments.
The long-term vision of the STEM-Network is to close the student-teacher diversity gap in the Baltimore region by widening pathways for new secondary STEM educators to teach in high-need schools. Lessons learned in this capacity building project provided the foundation for Loyola to reform teacher education curricula towards a robust, diverse STEM teacher pipeline, trained and committed to working in high-need schools. By better understanding the experiences of students, the STEM-Network has begun to generate insights that can be useful for driving system and policy changes to ensure the success and retention of new STEM teachers, especially teachers of color. Next steps include deepening Loyola’s commitment to early-career experiences for prospective teachers, strengthening advising for future teachers in all STEM disciplines, and administering a recently awarded Track 1 Noyce project whose goals align with these efforts.