Writer: Linda Fresques, 575-646-7416, firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the past two years, the New Mexico State University College of Engineering has been developing a program to increase the graduation rates of underrepresented minorities, particularly minority women, and place them into science and engineering careers.
Initiated in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Extending Academic Analytics program is led by Steven Stochaj, interim department head, and Laura Boucheron, associate professor. The three-year program is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and its successes may lead to positive impact for underrepresented minorities pursuing degrees in STEM fields across NMSU.
The need to grow a diverse science and engineering workforce is widely recognized by both the public and private sectors, while diversity in science and engineering fields is of particular importance to New Mexico because of the state’s diverse demographics: 47.7 percent Hispanic, 10.5 percent American Indian and 21.3 percent below the U.S. poverty threshold.
“The goal of the program is to improve the success of our students and improve diversity in engineering. We do this by developing a peer mentoring program so our students can have an extra chance at succeeding in their classes. This has two impacts: The first is that it gives students in our program a chance to have extra help outside the classroom. It also helps students in our program by giving them employment opportunities to act as a peer mentor,” Stochaj said. “This is a real growth opportunity for our students because it gives them an opportunity to practice what they’ve just learned in the classroom by explaining it to our other undergraduate students.”
This program directly addresses the graduation gap between underrepresented minority and other students observed at NMSU and other institutions. It is based on work done at Georgia State University to use data analytics to monitor the academic progress of its students. The GSU model is expanded to include engineering programs and will use predictive data to provide highly focused early interventions to boost academic performance.
The program relies heavily on the employment of students. Two graduate research assistants are performing the data collection and analysis as well as developing a web-based interface for communicating with students regarding their academic progress. Up to 18 graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants are providing supplemental instruction, peer mentoring and tutoring to students. A variety of other student support resources in the College of Engineering and throughout NMSU will also be available to students.
“I know that our graduate students, in being peer mentors in this program, are developing new ways that are becoming more common practice for being TAs in our program and more interactively reaching out to our students. Things like supplemental instruction and exam reviews are becoming the expected standard for their interaction with students as teaching assistants within our program,” Boucheron said.
She points out other benefits that may not have been originally intended have emerged.
“I think one of the largest impacts the grant has had on our institution, and particularly in electrical and computer engineering, is the ability for our own students to give back to the program and to help their fellow students be more successful in some of these difficult classes,” Boucheron said. “I also know that the ability for us to hire our own students and have them employed within the department has been a real benefit to our students who need to work to support their academic efforts.”
Another unexpected discovery came from the examination of historical data showing the relationship between the number of non-passing grades (D, F and W) and the time to graduation.
“We found that for every DFW grade, the student’s time to graduation is extended by approximately one semester. This goes against some of the general thought among students, and possibly among faculty, that you can easily ‘catch up’ from a DFW by just taking more credits in a subsequent semester,” Boucheron said. “This result is an illustration of the potential of a data-driven approach to analyzing student performance and our curriculum.”
The tools developed as a result of this research could serve as a model for the other College of Engineering departments to follow. The data analytics system is being developed with the flexibility required to easily apply it to other departments. It is likely that other college programs will be able to share peer mentoring and supplemental instruction resources for common content areas such as differential equations or linear systems. Beyond engineering, this system could be utilized by STEM programs throughout the university and has the potential to impact the graduation rates of underrepresented students in STEM fields across the NMSU system.
“This project in particular fits well with other student-centered initiatives in the college, such as the Learning Communities and the Engineering Leadership Institute, that are designed to make sure that students get help in academic and non-academic issues,” said College of Engineering Dean Lakshmi N. Reddi. “We are very student centered and we believe in keeping student success as our topmost priority. As a Hispanic-serving and land grant institution, we do believe in making sure that our minority, first generation and female students are successful in their programs. In that regard, we are very excited about this project with the U.S. Department of Education.”
NMSU MSEIP Grant 2019 video: