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  1. We STEM educators often hear that so many of our students fail because they are not college ready. But interventions at various levels, despite the hard work of implementation, have not resulted in dramatic improvements. What if, instead, the problem is that the institutional system – including instructional approaches and policies – is not student ready? The goal of our NSF supported project, called “Eco-STEM,” is to establish a healthy STEM educational ecosystem that allows all individuals within the ecosystem to thrive. The context for our work on STEM educational ecosystems is a Very High Hispanic Enrolling Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) at California State University, Los Angeles, where the majority of our students are also low-income and first-generation college students. Guided by an ecosystem paradigm, the project aims to: 1) create a supportive and culturally responsive learning/working environment for both students and faculty; 2) make teaching and learning rewarding and fulfilling experiences; and 3) emphasize the assets of our community to enhance motivation, excellence, and success. Currently, many STEM educators have a mental model of the education system as a pipeline or pathway, and this factory-like model requires standard inputs, expecting students to come prepared with certain knowledge and skills [4].more »When the educational system is viewed as a factory assembly line (as shown in Figure 1), interventions are focused on fixing the inputs by trying to increase students’ preparedness, which contributes to a prevailing deficit-focused mindset. This not only hinders student growth but also makes educational institutions less inclusive and teaching less rewarding for faculty. Increasingly, equity-minded educators and researchers employing the framework of community cultural wealth suggest that we need an asset-based mindset if we are to help all students achieve success in STEM. Research on ecosystem models offers a new way of thinking. In contrast to pipelines or pathways, which focus on student outcomes, an ecosystem model is centered on the learning environment, communities, and the experiences that diverse students, faculty, and staff have in the system as active agents. The Eco-STEM project proposes to: 1) shift the mental models of STEM faculty from factory- based to ecosystem-based so that they will intentionally establish healthy classroom ecosystems that facilitate learning for all students regardless of their backgrounds; 2) change the mental models and develop the capacity of department chairs and program coordinators so they can lead the cultural changes needed to create a healthy ecosystem at the department level; and 3) revise the teaching evaluation system to promote faculty development and enhance the student experience, which will help to create a healthy ecosystem at the institution. One fundamental aspect of this project is the Eco-STEM Faculty Fellows Community of Practice (CoP), which is designed to help foster these changes. As a work-in-progress paper, this paper presents the design and structure of the Eco-STEM Faculty Fellows CoP and seeks input from the faculty development community on our approach to fostering a healthy educational ecosystem for the majority marginalized student population we serve.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 7, 2023
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 10, 2023
  3. A 2019 report from the National Academies on Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) concluded that MSIs need to change their culture to successfully serve students with marginalized racial and/or ethnic identities. The report recommends institutional responsiveness to meet students “where they are,” metaphorically, creating supportive campus environments and providing tailored academic and social support structures. In recent years, the faculty, staff, and administrators at California State University, Los Angeles have made significant efforts to enhance student success through multiple initiatives including a summer bridge program, first-year in engineering program, etc. However, it has become clear that more profound changes are needed to create a culture that meets students “where they are.” In 2020, we were awarded NSF support for Eco-STEM, an initiative designed to change a system that demands "college-ready" students into one that is "student-ready." Aimed at shifting the deficit mindset prevailing in engineering education, the Eco-STEM project embraces an asset-based ecosystem model that thinks of education as cultivation, and ideas as seeds we are planting, rather than a system of standards and quality checks. This significant paradigm and culture transformation is accomplished through: 1) The Eco-STEM Faculty Fellows’ Community of Practice (CoP), which employs critically reflective dialogue[ ][ ]more »to enhance the learning environment using asset-based learner-centered instructional approaches; 2) A Leadership CoP with department chairs and program directors that guides cultural change at the department/program level; 3) A Facilitators’ CoP that prepares facilitators to lead, sustain, update, and expand the Faculty and Leadership CoPs; 4) Reform of the teaching evaluation system to sustain the cultural changes. This paper presents the progress and preliminary findings of the Eco-STEM project. During the first project year, the project team formulated the curriculum for the Faculty CoP with a focus on inclusive pedagogy, community cultural wealth, and community building, developed a classroom peer observation tool to provide formative data for teaching reflection, and designed research inquiry tools. The latter investigates the following research questions: 1) To what extent do the Eco-STEM CoPs effectively shift the mental models of participants from a factory-like model to an ecosystem model of education? 2) To what extent does this shift support an emphasis on the assets of our students, faculty, and staff members and, in turn, allow for enhanced motivation, excellence and success? 3) To what extent do new faculty assessment tools designed to provide feedback that reflects ecosystem-centric principles and values allow for individuals within the system to thrive? In Fall 2021, the first cohort of Eco-STEM Faculty Fellows were recruited, and rich conversations and in-depth reflections in our CoP meetings indicated Fellows’ positive responses to both the CoP curriculum and facilitation practices. This paper offers a work-in-progress introduction to the Eco-STEM project, including the Faculty CoP, the classroom peer observation tool, and the proposed research instruments. We hope this work will cultivate broader conversations within the engineering education research community about cultural change in engineering education and methods towards its implementation.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2023