We all know that STEM retention is not a simple, linear system that can be fixed instantly with one or two modifications. A brave team of international researchers has taken on the challenge of modeling what the system of STEM retention might look like using data from first-year engineering students at a European university. You have to locate “Considering Student Retention as a Complex System: a Possible Way Forward for Enhancing Student Retention” by Forsman et al. in European Journal of Engineering Education to get the full impact of the multilayer minimum spanning tree approach they used to create the model.
One glimpse at the visualized mass of spider webs will tell you why progress in retention seems minimal and slow. The model contains about 80 elements of student life, e.g., math preparedness, study skills, quality of teaching, yet few of the elements are dominant. Many of the elements are interconnected both vertically (e.g., student, class, college) and horizontally (e.g., one student takes courses in multiple departments). The authors conclude, as many universities have already realized, that retention interventions must be made at numerous points in the university system to create impact, there is a time lag in results and assessment, and any one intervention will make a small contribution to the overall progress.
So, I’m actually trying to be encouraging here. If you have been trying to improve STEM or general retention and have seen even a slight correlation between library activities and retention, then you’re contributing to student retention and have reason to celebrate!
Image attribution: The protein interaction network of Treponema pallidum by Hauser et al. via Wikimedia Commons.