Establishing a Center of Excellence for Women in STEM has improved academic success, engagement, and retention of underrepresented, low-income, and first-generation undergraduate women in Bay Path University's STEM majors. Here's what Bay Path did, and some lessons learned that may be key if you would like to undertake a similar initiative.
by Gina Semprebon, PhD, Professor or Biology, Founding Director of the Center of Excellence for Women in STEM, Bay Path University; Christine Bacon, D.HEd, Associate Professor of Biology, Chair of Science, Bay Path University; and Lamis Jarvinen, PhD, Director of Partners for Scientific Inquiry
The Challenges We Faced
As seen in many other higher education institutions, our female students have become increasingly attracted to pursuing STEM majors over the past several years. At Bay Path University, a women-serving institution at the undergraduate level, we have responded by expanding our STEM offerings and have sought for effective ways to both attract and retain women in our STEM majors, as well as to serve as a networking and educational center for professional women in STEM fields in our region – many of the latter being our own graduates.
However, the typical academic challenges faced in gateway, foundational courses within the first two years of study have proven to be more challenging for students in recent years – particularly for our underrepresented and first-generation students – and especially in chemistry and math courses where quantitative literacy was imperative for success.
What We Learned and What We Did
We realized that we needed to update our curriculum and teaching methods. Fortunately, we discovered in our journey that we did not have to “reinvent the wheel,” as excellent national recommendations for building life science literacy are readily available, as well as a growing body of literature on how students best learn. In this article, we will share what we did and what we achieved – because your institution doesn't need to reinvent the wheel either.
We undertook four steps to better attract and retain women in STEM:
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