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Building Success in First-year Engineering Education Through Rigorous Online Mathematics Preparation

Petronella James (Morgan State University, USA)
Helene Nguewou-Hyousse (Morgan State University, USA)
Session Information
October 16, 2015 - 10:45am
Learning Effectiveness
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Blended Program/Degree
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Northern Hemisphere A2
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 10

Building Success for Engineering Education - supporting growth in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education and ensuring successful transition from K-12 to First-year engineering

Extended Abstract

CONTEXT: Programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) have long been programs in which the University has been a major contributor to the pool of African Americans holding degrees. While those accomplishments are noteworthy, the number of African-Americans and members of other underrepresented groups receiving STEM degrees is far from sufficient to address the needs of the nation, and the University recognizes its role as contributing to the STEM workforce. With the appropriate resources and enrollment candidates, the University is ready to contribute more significantly to the needs of the nation by using cutting-edge technology to develop a comprehensive program for expanding access, improving affordability, improving the learning outcomes of students, and graduating more underrepresented, underprepared, and low-income STEM professionals. The Foundations of Math (FOM) pre-college mathematics program is a rigorous 8-week summer online program designed to bridge the gap of pre-college math capabilities, improve performance and ensure the success of incoming freshmen particularly on the Accuplacer placement test, and subsequently reducing time to completion. In this session, we are compelled to share a unique approach to solving the lingering problem of underrepresented, underprepared, and low-income students through targeted intervention and math preparation of pre-college, incoming freshmen. The outcome of this session is to enable the conference attendees to emulate and expand upon the concepts/approaches discussed within, and to initiate similar programs to increase enrollment and success of underrepresented, underprepared, and low-income students to grow a future diverse STEM professional.

PROBLEM APPROACH: Finding innovative and effective ways to increase the access and graduation rates of underrepresented, underprepared, and low-income students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) continue to challenge secondary and post-secondary institutions throughout the nation. One reason for this is because under-prepared students attending college require extensive development coursework that, for the most part, strains resources of some of the most well-endowed colleges and universities. The lack of preparation, as evidenced by course selection and performance in high school mathematics, is a retention challenge that the School of Engineering recognizes, and our approach is "front-loading" mathematics interventions. One offering is the tutor-assisted Foundations of Mathematics online program, which provides an opportunity for admitted engineering students who intend to enroll at the University, to prepare for the university mathematics placement test. The goal of this mathematics intervention is to help students gain a higher mathematics course placement on the university placement exam than they would have without intervention. Our approach using the FOM delivered online has been developed in an attempt to accomplish the following goals:
- Increase access and graduation rates of underrepresented, underprepared, and low-Income students in (STEM) Degree Programs;
- Reduce time to Completion;
- Improve college affordability; and
- Improve the learning outcomes of all students matriculating.

RESULTS: Over the past 5 years, almost 70% of the University's first year students were placed into developmental courses. This means that they came to the University unprepared to take the required college level general education requirements, and therefore had to be placed in remedial courses. Two-thirds of the members of the aforementioned group require both developmental (or remedial) mathematics and developmental reading courses prior to graduation, and this increases the number of years to graduation. Additionally, many of the University students struggle with the financial burden of attending college.

The aforementioned statistics are not unique to this University or to other HBCUs but are also in keeping with data nationally. Across the country, low-income, African-American and Hispanic students have a significantly higher high school and college dropout rate, than White or Asian students and while minority student populations in high school and college is rising, their graduation rates from both secondary and post-secondary institutions are stagnant or declining. These trends increase this University's commitment to its mission and for access to higher education opportunity for all students, to provide them with every opportunity to seek a college degree and to support their success and achievement once they enroll in undergraduate and graduate programs at the University.
In summer 2012, thirty-three of 42 participants who had done substantial work i.e., completed 75-100% of the assigned course modules and other assignments showed significant improvement. At the beginning of the program, 80% of the students had a mathematics skill level that would have placed them in the Basic Algebra (Math 106) course. By the end of the program, 80% placed out of developmental mathematics and into pre-calculus or Calculus I. On the contrary, 66% of the engineering freshmen who did not participate in any mathematics intervention prior to enrollment placed in developmental mathematics and could take as many as three semesters to reach Calculus I and up to six years to earn an engineering degree. We strongly feel that this approach has been successful in imbuing high school students with the appropriate developmental foundation to enable them to be successful in engineering and other STEM disciplines.
In this session, we will detail the FOM program using the online/blended learning format for high school or pre-college students and show how students will engage in problem-solving and active, hands-on learning in the classroom, and listen to video-based and on-line lectures at home. Session participants will be encouraged to actively participate in discussions and have questions prepared for the presenters. This session should appeal to educators that are considering offering an online bridge Math course for pre-college incoming students. This new approach represents a major paradigm shift in the way higher education institutions can approach online engineering education. We hope that it will open the door to many students who are candidates for joining the science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce. As a result, we can conclude that offering a rigorous foundations of mathematics course to incoming freshmen conducting will contribute to improved success rates for students identified as STEM and/or Engineering majors.

Lead Presenter

Dr. James serves as Faculty of Assessments and Online Programs for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, at Morgan State University. More recently, Dr. James spearheaded the successful 6-year reaccreditation efforts of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. She has several published works in Engineering Education and Online Learning. She is also an Adjunct Faculty for the Urban Transportation and, City and Regional Planning programs at MSU, where she teaches at the graduate and undergraduate level, using both face-to-face and blended online learning instruction.
Dr. Petronella James earned both her Doctor of Engineering and Masters of City & Regional Planning at Morgan State University (MSU), Baltimore, Maryland. She also completed a B.S. in Management Studies at the University of the West Indies (Mona), Jamaica.