The project is improving student retention in STEM disciplines by curricular reform and community and leadership building programs. The first of three major components focuses on developing, implementing, and institutionalizing project-based calculus instruction for students in engineering and in the sciences. Projects are being created in conjunction with engineers and scientists in the field, and are enhancing the students' ability to connect mathematics with other subjects. The second component is developing a peer leader program where the best students provide structured tutoring and serve as role models for other students. Finally, the third component of the project is enhancing undergraduate research by building on the community interactions and the projects developed in the first component. The project supports a comprehensive assessment effort, with an expert external evaluator, to determine whether these methods are effective as teaching tools and helpful in retention. The project team is disseminating their approach and data through regional and national meetings and through faculty development workshops. Broader impacts include increased ties to the community through community service projects, a focus on women and minority students, and dissemination of their model and materials.

Project Report

The STEP project at University of South Florida (USF) is based on the premise that Success in Calculus is the gateway to success in the STEM fields. This project is aimed at increasing STEM graduates through intervention programs in the Engineering and Life Science Calculus sequences ( Through this project we have developed and implemented several transportable strategies such as, one stop extended hour tutoring lab (STEM Mart), project-based teaching, peer leading, and undergraduate research. These multiple strategies have transformed the teaching of calculus at USF and are leading to increased retention and pass rates for students. Faculty are enthusiastic in implementing these strategies in their class rooms. STEM Mart is a one stop tutoring center that provides undergraduate students in the STEM disciplines an opportunity to receive free tutoring from other successful undergraduate students selected by the program. All together from Fall 2008 to end of Spring 2014 the number of recorded student visits is more than 30,000. On average about 1500 different students visited STEM Mart per academic year. STEM Mart is now part of tutoring and learning services at USF. From Fall 2008 to Fall 2013, a total of 1162 different projects have been completed by students taking Engineering Calculus II or III or Life Sciences Calculus II. These projects include majority from engineering topics, many from medical, natural sciences and other fields representing real life topics. The project activities are institutionalized through the newly created center: Center for Industrial and Interdisciplinary Mathematics at USF. This center, serving the local industry and research, is a long term resource for the community. We developed a curriculum of inquiry-based activities, following the Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL), approach for both Engineering and Life Sciences Calculus I. Every semester, we have between 13 to 17 undergraduate peer leaders, and approximately 3 engineering calculus I sections and 12 life sciences calculus I sections running peer leading in the classroom. Peer leading has got permanent funding from the University for 22 undergraduate peer leaders and four graduate teaching assistants every semester for the Mathematics. The University of South Florida has a well developed structure supporting and promoting undergraduate research. It is expected that by engaging in the project option, students will be more interested in being involved in real life problem solving and hence undergraduate research. We have created an electronic journal called Undergraduate Journal of Mathematical Modeling: One + Two ( in which selected projects are published. The analysis of the data indicates that the project methods had significant impact on success rates of our students. We have observed increased passing rates (20%) in Calculus for students who visited STEM Mart five or more times during a semester, increased pass rates (10%) and decreased withdrawal rates (between 5 – 15%) for sections that offer the project option as well as for sections that offer peer leading. Data also indicates that several peer leaders are becoming engaged in undergraduate research and seeking admissions to graduate school in STEM disciplines. Two dissemination workshops for faculty from different Florida colleges and universities were conducted in addition to conducting four breakout sessions at NSF-STEP annual meetings. The overall pass rate in Calculus sequence went from about 50-55% pass rate before project inception to about 70-73% by the end of six years. Several of the project activities have been integrated, both within the department and at the college and university level. Several research papers on our results are currently being written by the project team. A book of Calculus I Activities was published (July 2014) by Wiley and the POGIL press and is commercially available.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE)
Application #
Program Officer
Joyce B. Evans
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of South Florida
United States
Zip Code