T9-D&BP1-1 - Research to Practice: Keeping STEM student recruitment fresh and relevant using peer mentoring

2. Research-to-Practice Work In Progress
Jennifer I. Clark1
1 Montana State University - Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering

This student poster abstract is directed toward the research-to-practice proposal category. Shifting from high school to college presents two learning environments for transitioning students. First is the college knowledge required to navigate day-to-day logistics including new living arrangements, supporting physical & mental health, and funding the experience. Second relates to STEM curriculums and the challenge students face identifying with these rigorous programs. The work of Vincent Tinto, Alexander Astin, Laurie A. Schreiner, and others discuss the value of engagement and community as contributing factors to student persistence.  In recent years a research group has focused on high school and college students in a rural, Pacific Northwest state and the unique characteristics of this population which impact their transition to and through college relating the topic of college knowledge. High school students are aware they are moving into a complex environment and are concerned about everything from learning complex material to managing finances. College students learn their success is dependent on their ability to persist through rigorous coursework, make connections, stay engaged, and access university resources available to support their success. This research informed a “Next Generation” theoretical framework that was used to design programs for current and new engineering and computing students.  Formulating a theoretical approach provided a strategic way to ground exploring the student experience as they are introduced to a complex college environment and begin to identify with challenging engineering and computing curriculums. 

Using the Next Generation framework, a team evaluated the structure and effectiveness of an annual high school outreach program designed to match an engineering/computing college student with a high school student for the day. This previously loosely structured event was redesigned to align with the framework and goals to provide a rich engagement experience for mentor and mentee that answered high school students' questions about college and engineering/computing disciplines. The new design included an organized structure supported by a college peer mentor, a "how to go to college" gameplay opportunity, lunch, and a sample engineering design class. In Fall 2019, an engineering college student organization co-hosted 29 high school students, matched them with a college mentor, and facilitated activities for the day. Participant surveys, notes from event coordinators, and debriefing sessions with college student hosts confirmed the decision to refresh a high school outreach program increased the impact and rejuvenated the program for both mentors and mentees.

Using research to formulate a theoretical framework, listen to the voice of current and soon-to-be college students, and revive programs maintains their relevance to the populations they are meant to serve. The use of research to inform practice reminds experts to be “pracademics” who regularly question, What are we doing; Why are we doing it; and How can we be most effective?  The products from these habits are practitioners who are fresh and timely in responding to the needs of current students.