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Title: Value of Experiential Experiences for Diverse Student Populations Within Engineering Disciplines
Traditional admissions processes at top institutions predominately utilize standardized test scores when comparing student applications. The equity of these high-stakes tests most severely affects students of low socioeconomic status (SES). The NSF-sponsored program, Rising Scholars: Web of Support used as an Indicator of Success in Engineering, was created to investigate whether alternative admission criteria could be used to identify low-SES applicants who would excel within STEM fields in higher education, even if they did not have the superior standardized testing metrics preferred by current admissions process. The quality of the student’s support networks and their readiness for higher education as determined by an in-person interview with the selection committee were used as input data for a Web of Support characterization model to predict a student’s likely collegiate success at the matriculation point. There were three cohorts with a total of 21 students chosen for the program during their entry to the university which included applicants of low-SES and under-represented minority status. A significant programmatic element for these students was their involvement in experiential activities through pre-existing programs in the institution. It was reasonably assumed that the Rising Scholars student population could be positively influenced toward long-term educational commitment through experiential activities providing realistic views of professional activity. The prescribed collegiate path for these students contained an experiential educational element for each summer between admission and graduation. A summer research project with a faculty-directed laboratory before the sophomore year and a self-directed research project prior to the junior year were used to build project management experience, along with a paid, external internship in a professional organization likely to hire within the student’s major. Based upon the limited data collected so far, the researchers seem to have been conclusively demonstrated that a structured, ‘high-touch’ program with a heavy experiential component can successfully move low-SES students with STEM inclinations through a highly ranked institution. Counselling to reduce the anxiety surrounding the collegiate process for first generation students and some form of scholarship support to reduce the financial burden are both crucial underlying elements to this program’s success, but the importance of hands-on, experiential activities that help the student visualize their professional career cannot be under-estimated.  more » « less
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2021 ASEE Annual Conference
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National Science Foundation
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