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Innovation and Incubator Grants from the University System of Georgia

Launching a Peer Supplemental Instruction Program for STEM Majors

Georgia Gwinnett College


Grant Type: 
Project Lead: 
Cindy Achat-Mendes, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biology
Other team members: 

Chantelle Anfuso, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Latanya Hammonds-Odie, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biology

Benjamin Shepler, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Juliana Lancaster, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Office of Plans, Policies and Analysis

Project Overview: 

As an access institution, GGC attracts students who are often under-prepared for college, especially for STEM courses.  We propose to launch an innovative peer supplemental instruction program (PSI) with unique elements that meet the specific academic needs of GGC’s STEM students.  Our new PSI model will focus on: (1) equipping students with active learning competencies specific to STEM education and (2) developing in students discipline-specific laboratory research skills through lab-embedded PSI leaders.  This PSI model will be piloted in BIOL 1107K and CHEM 1211K, which are introductory STEM courses that have DFW rates ranging from 30-40%.

Project Description: 

Impact on completion:

The proposed project can improve completion by: (1) providing peer-assisted study sessions for subjects that are traditionally considered difficult, such as Biology and Chemistry; (2) equipping students with learning strategies that will promote academic success in upper-level STEM courses; and (3) strengthening students’ confidence in STEM competencies and courses.

Potential lessons to be learned:

This high-impact supplemental instruction program will focus on active learning in Biology and Chemistry.  Our PSI model will allow us to learn about the effectiveness of different active learning strategies in different STEM disciplines.  Additionally, the program should help identify targeted methods for supporting at-risk student populations in STEM education.


Identified Need

At Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC), Principles of Biology I (BIOL 1107K) is a foundation course for Biology and Exercise Science majors and is often taken by other STEM majors including Chemistry, Mathematics, and Information Technology.  Course assessment data for BIOL 1107K revealed that students are consistently underperforming on specific learning goals, and this is reflected in the high DFW rates (approximately 30% in Spring 2013 through Spring 2015; Appendix-1).  Principles of Chemistry I (CHEM 1211K) is a required course for all STEM majors, and the DFW rate is similarly high at approximately 39% (Appendix-2).  Furthermore, in the School of Science and Technology (SST), the average retention rate for students is estimated at 60% (Appendix-3).  With enrollment numbers in SST reaching 2,979 students in the Fall of 2014, this rate of retention suggests that about 1,200 students will either switch to a non-STEM major or leave GGC before completing a degree.

As an access institution, Georgia Gwinnett College attracts a population of students who are often under-represented in higher education and STEM, and under-prepared for college.  According to the Fall 2015 GGC student profile,1 approximately 51% of students belong to ethnic minority groups that are underrepresented in earning bachelor’s degrees in STEM disciplines.2   In addition, 21% of students are non-traditional, 25% are first-time freshmen, and 30% are part-time.  These attributes put a large number of our students at a potentially higher risk of completing their academic goals and underlies their need for supplemental instruction. 

Impact on Student Success and College Completion in STEM

Numerous studies have shown that providing peer-assisted academic support has helped increase the mean final course grades and persistence of participating students versus non-participants.3  Notably, peer supplemental instruction (PSI) is effective in enhancing STEM education.4-7  The positive impact of PSI at our institution is evidenced by the data we compiled from a small pilot project in Spring 2015, which showed that PSI attendance correlated with enhanced performance in course goals, exam grades, and final course grades for participants in BIOL 1107K (Appendix-4).  However, in order for GGC to achieve long-term, purposeful improvements in the academic skills of our student population, we require a more intrusive and structured PSI program that meets our students’ specific needs.

Project Design

Our project goal is to implement a structured and enriched PSI program that combines features of a traditional supplemental instruction program with unique elements that serve the needs of our students.  As an access institution with several types of at-risk populations in our student body, one of the missions of GGC is to provide an enriched active learning environment for students.  Our PSI model will address this mission by equipping students with research-based active learning competencies8 and academic skills9 that have been shown to be instrumental in improving STEM education.  Further, our School of Science and Technology is committed to engaging all STEM students in scientific research at every level of college.  To support this 4-year undergraduate research experience (URE), our PSI model will embed PSI leaders in the labs of BIOL 1107K to help students in the acquisition of fundamental research skills that will be used in upper-level courses. 

Voluntary PSI lecture sessions will be set in studio-configured classrooms that facilitate group activities.  Sessions will be offered three times per week outside of regularly scheduled course times.  They will focus on (1) course review and (2) active learning strategies that facilitate success in STEM.  Effective active learning strategies in Biology and Chemistry include concept mapping, drawing to learn, outlined problem solving, cooperative problem solving, and manipulating 3-D models.  Since BIOL 1107K and CHEM 1211K are introductory courses taken by primarily freshmen, students will receive instruction on developing academic skills to support a successful transition to a more demanding tertiary education.  These academic skills include metacognition, self-regulated learning, and time-management.  

Sessions will be held by PSI leaders. These junior or senior Biology and Chemistry majors will be selected based on their performance in biology and chemistry courses, academic integrity, and interest in peer-assisted learning.  They will be trained by the project team in best tutoring practices and in research-based active learning strategies.  It is expected that training and working as a PSI leader would positively impact their leadership skills, academic performance, and perspectives on post-graduate education.

In PSI lab sessions, leaders will attend regularly scheduled weekly Biology labs.  Lab-embedded PSI leaders will assist course instructors in regular lab activities and help students develop specific research techniques (graphing and micropipetting) that have been identified as key laboratory skills that will be utilized throughout the Biology major’s 4-year URE. 


One goal of this project is to lay the foundation for a structured, sustainable PSI program within SST.  To sustain the program and manage the financial challenge of hiring PSI leaders when the grant is exhausted, we plan to develop a new course in which PSI leaders will earn up to three college credits instead of compensation as student workers.  Enrolled students will serve as PSI leaders for approximately 5 hours per week.  We aspire to offer the new course entitled STEM Leadership in Fall 2016. 

GGC STEM majors must fulfill an internship/research requirement for graduation and STEM Leadership will provide an internship option to do so.  The STEM Leadership course will reinforce the STEM career track for upper-level students by introducing to them practical and theoretical aspects of STEM education and professional development as a PSI leader.  The project team will design this course during the 2015-2016 academic year, while launching the PSI program.  The training materials developed for this proposal will be used as the basis of the curriculum for the STEM Leadership course.  After the grant funding period, the project team will continue to recruit, train, and monitor the interns to maintain the quality of the PSI program.  It is expected that some participating PSI students who experience the benefits of the program will be motivated to take the STEM Leadership course to assist students who, like themselves, would be in need of early intervention in STEM courses. 


Transforming the way students learn in and study for introductory STEM courses, like BIOL 1107K and CHEM 1211K, will improve college success and completion rates for our STEM majors.  This proposal could impact over 1000 STEM students at GGC in one year.  A long-term goal of this PSI program is to foster an enriched active learning culture between STEM students at GGC.  Since PSI promotes a sense of reciprocal engagement in leaders and students10-11 and a major feature of our PSI model is to equip STEM majors with active learning strategies, it is expected that both students and leaders will emerge from the program with an enriched understanding of how to succeed in STEM courses.  Thus, the program will provide sustainable learning tools that can be utilized in all STEM courses to improve performance of STEM students at all levels of college.

Institutional Impact and Scalability

The proposed project has set out to implement a high-impact supplemental instruction program that will focus on active learning.  While there is abundant evidence to support a role for active learning in STEM education,8 it is not yet clear which methods of active learning are best suited for different STEM disciplines.  Scaling up this PSI model to include additional STEM courses at GGC will provide the opportunity to learn about the effectiveness of different active learning strategies in different STEM disciplines.  Once the PSI model is found to be successful in improving student retention, SST will support its expansion to assist other STEM courses including Principles of Biology II, Principles of Chemistry II, Pre-Calculus and introductory physics courses.

Finally, a cohort of peer tutors who are embedded in labs and trained with specific STEM competencies will provide much-needed targeted resources to at-risk students at GGC.  Our project design could therefore be adapted and scalable to other USG institutions with similar at-risk student populations.

B. Project Plan

The purpose of this proposal is to create a sustainable peer supplemental instruction (PSI) model for BIOL 1107K and CHEM 1211K. 

The goals of the PSI program are to:

  1. Improve retention of students in STEM disciplines.
  2. Help STEM students develop strong academic skills and active learning competencies.
  3. Cultivate leadership skills and confidence in STEM subjects in PSI leaders.
  4. Create a sustainable PSI model that can be used in other courses, disciplines, and institutions.

The specific objectives of the PSI program are:

  1. Improve exam grades in BIOL 1107K or CHEM 1211K throughout the semester
  2. Decrease the DFW rate in BIOL 1107K and CHEM 1211K by 10%
  3. Increase scores on all course outcome goals to at least 70% for PSI students.
  4. Increase percentage of AB grades by 10%.

The expected deliverables upon successful implementation of the PSI program:

  1. Active learning exercises and supplemental instruction materials for use in the weekly PSI sessions.
  2. Refined training program and manual for PSI leaders.
  3. A template for implementation of a PSI program in other courses, disciplines, and institutions.
  4. A STEM Leadership internship course proposal for future PSI leaders.
  5. Presentations at SoTL conferences and publication(s) in peer-reviewed journal(s).



Time Frame

Lead PI

Recruit 1 additional biology and chemistry faculty members to assist in PSI leader training, assessment, and content creation

July 16 – 21

Achat-Mendes, Shepler

Development of PSI leader training materials

July 16 – Aug 2


Creation of active learning exercises and materials for PSI sessions

July 16 – Aug 16

Anfuso, Hammonds-Odie

Recruitment of PSI leaders

July 16 – 24

Hammonds-Odie, Shepler

PSI leader candidate interviews and selection

July 27 – 31

Hammonds-Odie, Shepler

Supplemental Instruction Training for faculty at the International Center for Supplemental Instruction, Kansas City, Missouri

Aug 3 – 5

Achat-Mendes, Anfuso

Metacognition training workshop

(hosted at GGC; given by expert in the field, Saundra McGuire)

Aug 6-7

All PIs

Refining of PSI leader training materials

Aug 6 – 10

Achat-Mendes, Anfuso

PSI leader training

Aug 10 – 14

Achat-Mendes, Anfuso

Metacognition seminar

Aug 6


Introduction of PSI leaders to BIOL 1107K, CHEM 1211K faculty

Aug 14


3 weekly PSI sessions for both BIOL 1107K and CHEM 1211K

Aug 17 – Dec 5

Achat-Mendes, Shepler

Weekly BIOL 1107K laboratory sections with embedded PSI leaders

Aug 17 – Dec 5


Bi-weekly PSI leader meetings with faculty

Aug 17 – Dec 5

Achat-Mendes, Shepler

Development of “STEM Leadership” internship course proposal

Sep 1- Nov 15


Post semester assessment and evaluation

Dec 6 – 12

Lancaster, Achat-Mendes

PSI Leader supplemental training

Jan 6 – 8

Achat-Mendes, Shepler

3 weekly PSI sessions for both BIOL 1107K and CHEM 1211K

Jan 11 – May 3

Anfuso, Hammonds-Odie

Weekly Biology 1107K laboratory sections with embedded PSI leaders

Jan 11 – May 3


Bi-weekly PSI leader meetings with faculty

Jan 11 – May 3

Anfuso, Hammonds-Odie

Post-semester assessment and evaluation

May 4 – 10

Lancaster, Achat-Mendes







   4 Project team members @ $500 and 2 faculty members @ $300 per person

$ 2,600.00

   3 Biology and 3 Chemistry PSI Lecture leaders @ $8.25/hour

$ 5,568.00

   10 Biology PSI Lab leaders @ $8.25/hour

$ 8,894.00

   Other activities of all 13 PSI leaders

$ 3,003.00



    Faculty fringe benefits @ 22.92%

$    570.00



    International Center for Supplemental Instruction 

$ 3,483.00

    GA Scholarship of STEM Teaching and Learning research conference

$    475.00



    PSI Materials and supplies

$     407.00





Faculty:  Funds are requested to compensate the four project team members @ $500 per person for the year to develop PSI materials and select, train, and monitor PSI leaders.  Subtotal= $2,000.  In addition, funds are requested to compensate 1 Biology and 1 Chemistry instructor who will assist the project team with the recruitment, selection, and evaluation of the program @ $300 per person for the year.  Subtotal=$600. Total=$2,600.

Peer Supplemental Instruction Leaders: Funds are requested to hire students as PSI leaders to assist BIOL 1107K and CHEM 1211K students.  The student rate is $8.25/hour.  The 3 Biology and 3 Chemistry PSI lecture leaders will work 3.75 hours for 15 weeks per semester.  Subtotal=$5,568.  Meanwhile, the 10 Biology lab leaders will assist with 14 lab sections, working 2.75 hours for 14 sessions in the fall and 14 sessions in the spring. Subtotal=$8,894.  In addition to these duties, the PSI leaders will attend training and regular meetings with the project team for a total of 28 hours and at the rate of $8.25/hour. Subtotal=$3,003. Total=$17,465.


The faculty compensation is calculated @ 21.92% for a total of $570.


Funds, in the amount of $3,483, are requested for two project team members to travel to the 2015 International Center for Supplemental Instruction training in Kansas City, Missouri.  Funds, in the amount of $475, are also requested for one faculty member to disseminate project results at the 2016 Georgia Scholarship of STEM Teaching and Learning Research conference in Statesboro, Georgia. Total=$3,958.


Funds, in the amount of $407, are requested to purchase supplies needed by the PSI leaders to conduct their sessions.  These supplies will include PSI training materials (the SI supervisor/leader manual, leader’s guide, SI mentor manual, Simulated SI lecture on Advanced Biology DVD) and active learning materials (butcher paper, strategy cards, white boards, markers).

The total grant request is $25,000.


Assessment of Short-Term Outcomes:

  • Exam scores, average final course grades, and performance on specific course assessment questions will be monitored for BIOL 1107K and CHEM 1211K students participating in the PSI sessions and compared to those of students who do not participate in the PSI sessions.  These measures will be used to assess the effect of the PSI program on improving course content knowledge within a semester.
  • A rubric (to be developed jointly by BIOL 1107K faculty and PSI leaders) will assess specific student laboratory skills in BIOL 1107K.  Student performance will be tracked over the course of each semester to evaluate the effect of embedding PSI leaders in the lab on research skills.
  • Retrospective pre-test and post-test attitudinal surveys will assess student perception of the effects of participating in the PSI sessions on both their content knowledge and academic skills for BIOL 1107K and/or CHEM 1211K.  This retrospective pre-test method will be used in lieu of a traditional pre-test since the students who participate in the PSI program are likely to not only have weak academic skills but also be unaware of this (i.e. lack metacognition in this area).  In scenarios where individuals will participate in a program that informs them of their own abilities, the retrospective pre-test has been shown to yield pre-program self-ratings that are more consistent with objective ratings given by an outside individual.12 Existing surveys designed for the 4-year URE program in SST will be modified for this purpose.

Assessment of Long-Term Outcomes:

  • PSI students will be tracked to monitor their final course grades and retention rates in STEM courses in subsequent semesters.  These data will be compared to aggregate data for STEM majors and will be used to assess the effect of our PSI program on STEM academic skills over multiple semesters.
  • PSI students will be monitored in terms of their overall GPA, STEM retention rate, and graduation rates.  These data will be compared to institutional averages to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of these early-intervention PSI programs.

Overall program evaluation

  • Student compliance and interest in the PSI program will be assessed both by the aforementioned post-test attitudinal surveys and by tracking PSI attendance throughout the semester.  BIOL 1107K students will also be surveyed to determine if the incorporation of PSI leaders in lab increased the likelihood of BIOL 1107K students attending PSI sessions. 
  • Pre- and post-content tests and retrospective pre-test and post-test attitudinal surveys will be used to assess the impact of participation as a PSI leader on content knowledge, confidence in that knowledge, leadership abilities, and attitudes towards pursuing post-graduate studies.  PSI leaders will also be evaluated via self-evaluation, student surveys and project faculty.
  • Focus groups will be conducted in which PSI students, leaders, and course instructors will help identify strengths and challenges of the PSI program for both BIOL 1107K and CHEM 1211K.
  • The results of all surveys and tests will be analyzed at the end of each semester and will be used to make adjustments and improvements to the next semester’s leader training and delivery of the program.


FIGURE 1. Grade distribution for Principles of Biology I in Spring 2013,

Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 (Mean±SD).

FIGURE 2. Grade distribution for Principles of Chemistry I in Spring 2013,

Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 (Mean±SD).

  1. SST STEM retention rates

Total SST Data

Fall 2011





Fall 2014

Total SST Enrollment





Average SST Retention Rates*





Total SST Degree Completion





Total STEM Majors

FY12 2324

FY13 3051

FY14 5938



* Retention rate: students were counted as being retained only if they returned to a STEM major.

  1. PSI BIOL 1107K pilot data

FIGURE 3. Average grades (±SEM) on the first and second exams in BIOL 1107K as a function of PSI attendance (n=27 students).

FIGURE 4. Average grades (±SD) in BIOL 1107K in students attending PSI compared (n=27) to course grades before PSI was introduced (n=184).


  1. Georgia Gwinnett College Office of Institutional Research (2015). Georgia Gwinnett College Enrollment and Student Information 2014-2015. Retrieved on June, 2015 from:
  2. National Science Foundation (2012). Science and Engineering Indicators, 2012 Available: Arlington, VA.
  3. Dawson, van der Meer, Skalicky, Cowley, Kym (2014). On the Effectiveness of Supplemental Instruction A Systematic Review of Supplemental Instruction and Peer-Assisted Study Sessions Literature between 2001 and 2010. Review of Educational Research, 84 (4): 609–639.
  4. Batz Z, Olsen BJ, Dumont J, Dastoor F, Smith MK (2015). Helping struggling students in introductory biology: a peer-tutoring approach that improves performance, perception, and retention. CBE Life Sci Educ. 14 (Summer), 1-12.
  5. Hughes KS (2011). Peer-assisted learning strategies in human anatomy & physiology. American Biology Teacher, 73(3), 144-147.
  6. Rath KA, Peterfreund AR, Xenos SP, Bayliss F, Carnal N (2007) Supplemental instruction in introductory biology I: enhancing the performance and retention of underrepresented minority students. CBE Life Sci Educ. 6(3):203-216.
  7. Tenney A and Houck B (2003). Peer-led team learning in introductory biology and chemistry courses: a parallel approach. The Journal of Mathematics and Science: Collaborative Explorations, 6, 11-20.
  8. Freeman S, Eddy SL, McDonough M, Smith MK, Okoroafor N, Jordt H, Wenderoth MP (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 111(23):8410-5.
  9. Tanner, KD (2012). Promoting student metacognition. CBE Life Sci Educ. 11 (Summer), 113-120.
  10. Galbraith J & Winterbottom M (2011). Peer‐tutoring: what’s in it for the tutor? Educational Studies, 37(3), 321-332.
  11. Johnston J & McClelland G (2009). To teach is to learn twice: do undergraduate science teachers improve their physics understanding by becoming peer leaders? [Presented at the 2009 Science Learning and Teaching Conference, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh].
  12. Nimon K, Zigarmi D, & Allen J (2011). Measures of Program Effectiveness Based on Retrospective Pretest Data: Are All Created Equal? American Journal of Evaluation, 32(1), 8 – 28.