Norfolk State University (NSU) will conduct an educational research project that will provide a comprehensive formal evaluation of a NSU Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) student scholarship program (DNIMAS). We believe that such an undertaking is necessary at this point-in time because there is a considerable history of minority STEM enrichment programs that have largely reported success, but have reported such success anecdotally and have not disseminated their findings in a manner that can help others to systematically adopt those educational strategies and philosophies that contribute towards the creation of a significant increase in the number of underrepresented students pursuing STEM training and career entry [Matsui, 2003]. The current deficit of information detailing successful minority STEM training is not necessarily the fault of institutions and organizations that have sponsored or implemented such programs, but rather results from the inherent difficulty in maintaining longitudinal connections with students, who participated in special STEM training programs [Brainard and Carlin, 1999]. Also, the analysis of many formal evaluations of minority STEM training initiatives typically focus on students' outcomes and behaviors, and do not usually conduct in-depth queries of all personnel, such as professors, administrators, counselors, and educational support staff, who also play a significant role in carrying out STEM education programs. This research project will produce a very detailed analysis of the scholarship program with all of the obvious and not-so-obvious features of this training environment. Some of what might be called obvious features would include mandatory tutorials, seminars, and externships, to name a few; while the not-so-obvious features would be the formation of student study and support groups, faculty mentoring and role modeling, and the extent of family and community connectedness. Our research project will utilize a variety of assessment instruments and consultations that have been recognized to provide comprehensive and reliable programmatic data. These assessment instruments will measure such parameters as attitudes towards knowledge and learning, academic performance, career awareness, knowledge of study skills, meta-cognitive levels, nature of their interactions with other STEM students and faculty, personal confidence, academic and personal support from family and friends, utilization of University resources, choice of and utilization of problems-solving strategies, Internet reliance, and willingness to take risks. This research will evaluate the effectiveness of the full scholarship program and examine it as a proposed model to support retention, progression, and graduation of other students in STEM and other university programs. Also this research will evaluate the NSU Engineering Department's core faculty and integrated curriculum program, where retention is addressed in the classroom by emphasizing the unity of all knowledge through the use of an integrated curriculum. A series of research questions will serve as the framework for developing a comprehensive set of program evaluation metrics. It is important that the defined metrics that will be determined by this proposed research project measure program strategies, activities and results that are an integral part of the targeted NSU STEM programs.
The intent of this research project is to demonstrate that practical applications and research are interconnected as well as to ensure that students completing NSU programs in engineering and ultimately all STEM degree programs at NSU will be both "workforce ready" as well as have the capability to transfer their knowledge to troubleshooting and to the design of new systems and applications. The core faculty team have well-developed and synergistic approaches that will address weaknesses that students may encounter in the gateway courses. Furthermore, the integrated curriculum approach may prove to allow students to understand the relevance and interrelatedness of topics as they are presented, rather than having to wait months and sometimes years before they are able to realize how to use various tools that they may have learned earlier. In many STEM departments, even though there is now considerable effort being placed on tutorial support for students enrolled in gateway courses, there still needs to be more emphasis on pedagogy and presentation skills by faculty teaching the gateway courses. The expected impact is to determine the critical success factors that lead to an increase in the progression and retention rates of students enrolled in gateway STEM courses at NSU and to ultimately increase the graduation rates of all students in STEM fields.