In May 2014, Drexel University was awarded a $1.2 million, five-year grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to fund initiatives to increase retention of STEM undergraduates, especially those in their first two years of college. One strategy is to assign STEM freshmen to mentored learning communities. These communities will have both selected faculty and upper level undergraduates to mentor the students both in adjusting to academic demands and a new social environment.
The involved faculty will be innovative teachers who use engagement strategies known to increase retention in general. A lead professor on the project explained, “This includes approaches such as group problem solving, answering questions on course content with immediate feedback, case discussions or in-class debates.” This is where you, the librarian, should step in and say, “I can help you with those approaches and save you time!”
Academic librarians are highly qualified to select cases for discussions or readings for debate preparation. We’ve dealt with enough students to know the subject matter level that is appropriate for them and what would interest them. We’re likely to know where to find that content more quickly than faculty or teaching assistants. A former graduate assistant, Carl Adkins, and I actually collaborated with a professor in this manner for an environmental science introductory course. At that time, I wasn’t thinking about supporting retention of students, but that’s exactly what we did. The professor wanted to engage the students with debates on environmental issues and she asked us to select the readings on both sides of the issues. You can read about our strategy for selecting the readings in “Fueling Green Debate: Creating Student Reading Lists for Environmental Science Debates Using RefShare” in the Electronic Green Journal.
So be alert to opportunities to collaborate in active learning activities, such as when a science department is awarded a grant or is drafting a grant proposal for STEM retention. We shouldn’t be shy about asking to collaborate; we have the expertise to select excellent content for STEM students, thus raising the probability of retention.