Amplifying Strategies for Enabling the Success of Penn State Science 2+2 Students

Project: Research project

Project Details


The NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) program supports the retention and graduation of high-achieving, low-income students with demonstrated financial need. This S-STEM project at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) aims to increase the success of science students who transfer to the University Park campus from one of its 19 Commonwealth Campuses. Over a five-year period, this project will provide scholarships to 180 transfer students who are pursuing bachelor's degrees in science; the scholarships will be given in five annual cohorts of 36 students. This project builds upon two currently successful programs to improve science learning and success, with the goal of amplifying effective approaches across all 20 campuses of Pennsylvania State University. Currently, over 20% of the Eberly College of Science students at the Penn State-University Park campus are part of the Penn State 2+2 plan. Students in the 2+2 plan begin their studies at one of the 19 Penn State Commonwealth campuses with the intention of completing their science degree at the flagship campus at University Park. Science students in the Penn State 2+2 plan are more likely to come from lower-income families, and they graduate at a rate almost three times lower than science students who begin their academic careers at the University Park campus. This project aims to ensure that science students have equivalent graduation rates regardless of their campus of origin. In addition, it aims to enlarge the community of mathematicians participating in curricular reform, to improve the ways that college mathematics is taught across all Penn State campuses. Penn State has a unique institutional structure: it is not a university system, but a single university that is geographically distributed. This structure provides an opportunity to study and improve student pathways in 2+2 programs, and to provide a national model for efforts to retain science students who transition from two-year colleges to four-year institutions.

This project seeks to extend and combine two distinct strategies that have proven effective in increasing the learning, retention, and success rate of science students at Penn State. The first strategy is the Science Dean's Scholars Program, which provides science students in the Penn State 2+2 Plan with a dedicated academic adviser, peer mentors, an annual scholarship, programming, and guidance on professional development. The Science Dean's Scholars Program has achieved a 95% graduation rate for the participating Scholars. The second strategy is a two-semester calculus sequence taught in the context of biology and the life sciences, using research-based pedagogical approaches and involving undergraduate Learning Assistants in the instructional team. These changes have increased student success (a grade of C or better) from 55% to 85%. This project will support more 2+2 students as Science Dean's Scholars or as Learning Assistants in the biology-based calculus course, and expand the biology-based calculus course to the Penn State Commonwealth campuses, with a goal of tripling the number of students in that course sequence. A detailed evaluation of outcomes will allow the methodical investigation of the impact of the Science Dean's Scholars Program and the calculus transformation, and examine how the two interventions may interact to support student learning and persistence. Key questions will focus on the effectiveness of each program component, outcomes of changes in the calculus curriculum, and the adoption of proven active learning approaches across all campuses.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date10/1/189/30/23


  • National Science Foundation: $1,000,000.00


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