This project is a partnership between DePaul and two of the City Colleges of Chicago, Harold Washington College and Harry S Truman College, to build a pipeline for STEM students and to increase the number of DePaul STEM graduates by 30%, to increase the number of STEM minority graduates by 100%, and to increase the number of students completing associate degrees in STEM fields at the partner institutions by 10%. The project is building a supportive environment for the education of STEM majors, exposing STEM students to research opportunities early in their studies, providing opportunities for research positions and internships at Chicago area science museums, corporations, and institutes, and coordinating the curriculum at the three academic institutions to aid student matriculation. To achieve these goals, the program is implementing the following four components: (1) an ""Introduction to Research"" summer program for selected first and second year DePaul and community college students; (2) formal partnerships with local science museums and other organizations to place students in external research assistantships and educational internships; (3) student support programs, including interventions that target mathematics and science courses and build community in STEM fields; and (4) formal articulation agreements and transition programs between DePaul and local community colleges. These core activities are being coordinated with larger systemic initiatives and changes at the three institutions that will improve the educational experiences of all STEM students. The project is actively recruiting minority students, women, and others who might be unlikely to seek research experiences on their own and facilitating their placement in internal and external research and internship programs. Among the opportunities are community-based projects that have a service or cultural component, projects that have been shown to aid in recruiting minority students and women. Project evaluation includes tracking progress toward reaching final and intermediate benchmarks, tracking of all students who participate in the summer research program throughout their college careers, and surveys and focus groups to evaluate individual project components. Project results are being disseminated via brochures, publications and presentations at local, regional and national meetings.

Project Report

The Chicago Initiative for Research and Recruitment in Undergraduate Science (CIRRUS) Scholars Program began with funding from the National Science Foundation STEP Grant (#0653198) and conducted programming from 2008 through 2013. The goal of the program was to increase the number of bachelor’s and associate’s degrees granted in the natural sciences and mathematics at three institutions: DePaul University, Harold Washington College, and Harry S Truman College. Each year the program accepted a total of 25 CIRRUS Scholars from beginning undergraduate science and mathematics students at the three institutions. These students participated in a 15 month cycle of activities, beginning with a paid, six-week, team-based research summer program. During the following academic year, students organized professional development and community building activities under the mentorship of the CIRRUS program coordinator. The following summer, CIRRUS Scholars were eligible for an individual paid summer research internship. Partnerships with local institutions, including the Field Museum of Natural History, Argonne National Laboratory, the Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum provided "behind-the-scenes" tours for students during the introductory summer research program and sites for individual research internships the following summer. Considerable deliberations were made by project leaders to select and engage students who were at risk of leaving science majors and who would benefit from the program activities. The CIRRUS leadership team identified the four following traits and characteristics that the program activities should aim to develop within the student participants: social supports, love of science, academic skills and self-confidence. The students who were admitted into the CIRRUS Scholars Program typically either had not yet declared a major or were majoring in the sciences and mathematics. The grade point average of admitted students was approximately half a grade point lower than the average of those not admitted. Latino and African American students were more likely to be admitted than not admitted. Admitted scholars were also identified by the selection committee as having financial needs and as being able to benefit from the CIRRUS Scholar Program in terms of academics and informing career goals. One hundred and fifty-two CIRRUS Scholars have been engaged, with 60% of those completing paid research internships. The CIRRUS program aims of enhancing students’ social supports, love of science, academic skills and self-confidence were clearly met with a variety of evidence shared by the students and their faculty mentors. Over a recent two-year period, CIRRUS Scholars made 80 presentations, including presentations at the annual meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), the Illinois Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation annual symposium, the Chicago Area Undergraduate Research Symposium, national meetings in Cell Biology and Biophysics and DePaul’s annual Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Technology Showcase. Many of the activities of the CIRRUS Scholars Program have been institutionalized through the creation of a new permanent position in the College of Health and Science, the Assistant Director of Research and Student Services. This staff member will act as mentor to the CIRRUS student organization, which will continue to organize and implement an ongoing series of professional development and outreach events for science and mathematics students. Additionally, the Assistant Director of Research and Student Services will provide a central clearinghouse for research and professional development opportunities for science students and a point of contact with other DePaul offices and programs such as the Career Center, the University Internship Program, the McNair Scholars Program, and Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. Initial findings suggest that the DePaul CIRRUS Scholars have been more successful in earning and working toward their bachelor’s degrees in science and mathematics than those from DePaul who applied but were not admitted to CIRRUS, despite the non-admitted group’s higher initial GPA. Four out of five DePaul CIRRUS Scholars from the 2008–2011 cohorts have either graduated with a mathematics or science degree or were still working toward a mathematics or science degree at the end of their third or fourth year at DePaul. This represents a large increase over historical six-year retention rate of 40% for science students at DePaul.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE)
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Program Officer
Amy Chan Hilton
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Depaul University
United States
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