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Innovation and Incubator Grants from the University System of Georgia

From STEM to STEAM: Building Meaningful Collaborations Between the Sciences and Humanities for Student Success

University of West Georgia


Grant Type: 
Project Lead: 
Dr. S. Swamy Mruthinti
Associate Dean and Professor of Biology, College of Science and Mathematics
Other team members: 
  • Dr. Rebecca Harrison (Assistant Professor of English and UWise English Coordinator)
  • Dr. Farooq Khan (Dean and Professor of Chemistry, College of Science and Mathematics)
  • Dr. Scott Sykes (Associate Professor of Mathematics and UWise Co-Director
  • Dr. Gail Marshall (Lecturer of Secondary Education and Co-Director of UTEACH, Evaluator)
Project Overview: 

At UWG, the DFW rates in ENGL 1101/1102 are nearly 30%, which impede a significant num ber of STEM majors from advancing academically. The UWG STEM Initiative (UWise) piloted an innovative solution wherein incoming STEM majors completed ENGL 1101 sections that centered the sciences culturally and politically in a humanities framework. These sections targeted the development of analytical skills necessary for burgeoning scientists while fostering interdisciplinary college writing practices. The results evidence better content engagement and academic progression than matched-control groups. This CCG proposal seeks to replicate this successful paradigm to positively impact, over three years, all entering STEM majors.

Project Description: 

Impact on Completion:

Replication of this proven innovative approach has the potential to increase student success in the freshmen year and their college experiences as a whole. Further, graduating an increased number of better-prepared STEM professionals positively impacts the economy both at the state and national levels.

Potential Lessons Learned:

Given that ENGL 1101 and 1102 are taken by essentially all freshmen in the USG, the lessons learned at UWG, when disseminated, can potentially influence First Year Writing curriculum revisions for STEM majors at all USG institutions.

Concept Description


Institutional Background: The University of West Georgia (UWG) is a predominantly undergraduate comprehensive university with an enrollment of about 12,000 students (62% females, 35% minorities, and 66% with roots in rural counties). In 2011, the College of Science and Mathematics (COSM), compromised of six departments (Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Geosciences, Mathematics, and Physics), was constituted from the former College of Arts and Sciences. The COSM has a broad mission to prepare majors in STEM disciplines and provide exceptional core instruction to undergraduate students in all disciplines.

Challenges for STEM students at UWG: Despite the best efforts of the faculty and support structure, students struggle to successfully complete STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) gateway courses. About one in three STEM students will earn a grade of D, F, or withdraw (DFW) from introductory courses, a trend marked throughout the past decade. In addition, our STEM students experience difficulty completing their introductory English courses (ENGL 1 101 and ENGL 1102), which hover at a 30% DFW rate. The percent of UWG students progressing to the sophomore year is only 70.76% with a mere 15.l % graduating in a four-year period (UWG Fact Book, 2013 - 2013).

STEM Initiatives: Given the significant impact of STEM careers on the regional and national economies, there is considerable interest in improving student success in these disciplines. Funded by the USG STEM Initiative II since 2011, the University of West Georgia Institutional STEM Excellence (UWise) program focuses on increasing student success in STEM gateway courses, providing opportunities for students to explore STEM careers including teaching, and supporting STEM faculty to undertake research and demonstration projects that investigate approaches to improve STEM pedagogy and student learning outcomes. Since 2011 , UWise has been conducting a Summer Bridge Program for a select group of incoming freshman interested in majoring in STEM disciplines. Recognizing that both English and Mathematics are critical components for students' overall success, the Summer bridge program in 2012 and 2013 included preparation in College Algebra (XIDS 2002 in Summer 2012 and Math 1111 in Summer 2013) and XIDS 2100 (Arts and Ideas with an emphasis on English Analysis and Writing). The latter was taught by English faculty, exploring concepts such as sustainability, the environment, and the "logical writer" framed within STEM disciplines. These students were subsequently placed in a learning community (ENGL 110l in the Fall semester and 1102 in the Spring semester) with assignments focused broad ly around STEM themes. In the fall of 2013, UWise Bridge students' average GPA was 2.72 compared to 2.2 1 for their freshman index­ matched non-Bridge peers. The 2013 DFW rate in ENGL 1101 was 20.6% for Bridge students compared to 31.3% for matched non-Bridge students. An important lesson learned was that students were more engaged in writing and analytical skills when STEM was one of the themes of their English writing class and when writing assignments focused on tenets that our seemingly divergent disciplines share.

Area of Need on Campus: At UWG, more than 35% of about 2000 incoming freshman are interested in majoring in STEM disciplines. Careful analysis of student performance reveals that freshmen in STEM disciplines are significantly under-prepared for and not fully engaged in the required year-long English composition courses, ENGL 1 10I and 1 102, as reflected in 30% DFW rates. As a result, around 29% of students fail to progress to the sophomore year, and some of them may drop out of college altogether. Clearly, there is an urgent need for discipline specific approaches in the First Year Writing Sequence to alleviate the impediments to progression and retention of our STEM students.

Project Potential Impact on Student Success and College Completion: As described above, crafting meaningful collaborations between our STEM disciplines and inquiry-based writing program improved both student grades in these courses and enhanced student retention. The expansion of our innovative approach has the potential to increase student success considerably in the freshmen year, and thus their college experiences as a whole, for a sizeable fraction of our incoming class. Further, graduating an increased number of better-prepared STEM professionals positively impacts the economy both at the state and national level.

Potential Lessons Learned for Scale up to USG Institutions: Given that ENGL 1101 and 1102 are taken by essentially all freshmen in the USG, the lessons learned at UWG, when disseminated, can significantly impact First Year Writing programs across USG as a whole.


Project Plan


Goals, Objectives, and Deliverables within 6-12 Months: The goal of the proposal is to replicate STEM-based ENGL 1101 and 1 102 sections to a target group of incoming freshmen, who have expressed interest in majoring in STEM disciplines, with the eventual goal of institutionalization. We believe that these will increase student success in the freshman year, an important component of efforts for Complete College Georgia. In addition, these efforts have the potential to spark and maintain student interest in their chosen disciplines. The expansion of STEM-based ENGL 1101s would entail the creation of multiple sections offering a variety of STEM-centered themes and that follow the same assignment trajectory aimed at fostering the analytical and writing skills common between the disciplines. Our experience has been that substantive collaborations between English and science faculty members have been very fruitful in designing these unique courses. Thus, we envision that selected faculty members from the sciences and English will work together to form in the development of the curriculum. We propose to build on the success of the pilot initiatives in ENGL 1101 and expand the number of sections to six in Fall 2014, twelve in Fall 2015, and sixteen in Fall 2016. Also, STEM themes will be further incorporated into an equal number of corresponding Spring ENGL 1102 sections, which will have the same implementation schedule for 2015-201 7. Thus, the total number of STEM centered First Year Writing sections offered would be twelve in AY 2014- 2015, twenty-four in AY 2015-2016, and thirty-two in AY 2016-2017. Incoming freshmen, who expressed interest in majoring in STEM disciplines with a minimum SAT Math and English Writing scores of 500 in each or freshman index of 2500, will be placed in a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) student learning community with a common set of courses. In the Fall semester, they will take ENGL 1101 (STEAM writing theme) and XIDS 2001 (theme-based freshman seminars such as pre-health, Engineering, Environment and Energy with an emphasis on scientific and professional writing). In Spring semester, they will continue to ENGL 1102 (STEAM writing theme) and major specific courses. In sum, the STEAM faculty (STEM and English faculty) will form a SoTL learning community that codifies the importance of common analytical and writing skill sets not only important for ENGL 1101/1102 but also for science courses broadly. In addition to improving student grades, which are critical to the students' advancement to the sophomore year, this approach helps maintain student interest in their STEM careers and bolsters graduation rates. The results will be disseminated at SoTL conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals.

Timeline (include specific tasks, milestones, resources, and personnel associated): If funded, First Year Writing course development and faculty training will take place in Summer 2014 with department level curricular assessment and revision for subsequent years occurring in May 2015. The courses will be implemented in a three-tiered process as noted above Fall 2014 through Spring 2017. Institutional assessment will take place during the academic year(s) with active consultation by Dr. Gail Marshall (a faculty member in the College of Education at UWG).


Logic Model


Logic Model that Connects the Project Inputs, Activity, and Outputs to Interim Outcomes of College Completion

As the primary goal of STEM to STEAM at UWG is to increase success of STEM students in the gateway courses and retention, the evaluation will provide summative results of program outcomes. In addition, formative data will be collected on each academic activity, in which students engage, as well as the qualitative evaluation of the courses by both peers and students. This formative data will be used for ongoing program planning and improvement and to increase the likelihood that the program will be successful for reaching its goal of increased retention and progression. The following figure provides the logic model and outlines program inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes. Formative evaluation will gauge the effectiveness of program activities whereas the summative evaluation will provide feedback on whether the program has met its short-term goals, which are to (I) increase ENGL 1101/1102 success, (2) increase academic progression (3) increase freshman GPA, and (4) increase positive peer- and student-review of course material.


Project Budget and Evaluation Plan




Summer compensation for six ENGL faculty members:


  • ($3500 ENGL STEM Coordinator/Trainer & 5 Instructors @ $3,300 each)


  • Summer compensation for three STEM faculty members @ $1,000 each

$ 3,000

  • Summer compensation for Program evaluator 

?$ 1,000

Supplies (books and instructional material)

$ 1,000



Budget Justification: Five English 1101 instructors will receive a total of $ 3300 each as summer compensation (split between July 2014 and May 2015) for course development and training, STEM collaboration workshops, and department level curriculum assessment and revision work for the next AY cycle. The English STEM Coordinator will manage this effort at the department level, including training of the faculty and supervision of the courses implemented, and serves as the liaison to the science faculty. Three STEM faculty members (one each from Biology, Chemistry, and Mathematics) will collaborate with English faculty members as they develop the courses and help in identifying science topics and skills sets that need fostering in the course assignments. The same STEM faculty members will teach the XIDS 1101 (freshman seminar) courses. The program coordinator will conduct the focus groups, analyze the data, and prepare the evaluation report. Requested budget for supplies include books and instructional materials.

Brief Evaluation Plan to Assess the Outcomes of the Project: The evaluation will be done by Dr. Gail Marshal, who is not directly involved with this project. Formative evaluation data will include surveys and focus groups with students and STEAM faculty. Summative data will include student grades, GPA, retention and progression. The evaluator will work with the Program Lead to develop two surveys-one for students and one for STEAM faculty-that will be used to collect data near the end of each semester. Surveys will be aligned to objectives for each activity/support service and will provide respondents with an opportunity to provide feedback about ways the various services are supporting student retention, areas of needed improvement, and any additional supports students may need. Surveys will include both Likert and open-ended questions. The evaluator will also conduct a focus group interview with a group of 10 students for each section, selected randomly. Focus group questions will be created based on analysis of annual surveys and will elicit additional information on topics described by students on their surveys. UWG 's office of Institutional Research and Planning will provide the evaluator with a semester-by-semester report that includes students ' grades, majors, enrollment status, and graduation status. The evaluator will provide the program coordinator with a report of both survey results and institutional results.