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The University of Texas at ArlingtonThe University of Texas at Arlington

College of Science

College of Science News

NSF grant aims at boosting freshman retention rates

The National Science Foundation gave nearly $2 million to the Colleges of Engineering and Science at The University of Texas at Arlington to develop an interdisciplinary program to boost retention rates for first- and second-year students.

The program, announced in September 2009, is expected to boost retention rates for engineering and science majors by 15 percent during the five-year exploratory effort.

First-year students in those fields often are unprepared for the rigor of their courses and drop out of these programs at a higher rate than other disciplines.

The NSF targets science, technology, engineering and mathematics areas providing funding for research and education. The UT Arlington retention program, titled "Arlington Undergraduate Research-based Achievement for STEM," or AURAS, will provide strategic support for incoming students, particularly underrepresented minorities in STEM.

Lynn Peterson, senior associate dean of engineering, leads the program in partnership with mathematics professor James Epperson, physics professor Ramon Lopez and chemistry professor Kevin Schug, all of the College of Science, and Carter Tiernan, assistant dean of engineering for student affairs.

AURAS will implement an Emerging Scholars Program for special sections of certain courses. Success in these classes is critical to retention in STEM majors; failure in these courses has been linked to students leaving STEM fields. The sections will allow extra peer mentors and modified class structures designed to overcome shortcomings in students' basic skills and ensure depth of understanding.

"Course content and student expectations will remain the same," Peterson said. "We are just taking a targeted approach with students that need a little extra support."

In addition, selected freshmen and sophomores will be given opportunities to become paid research assistants and to participate in research activities previously unavailable to them. It is hoped that such experience will increase the students' interest in their subjects and boost their desire to pursue graduate degrees, where intensive research plays a major role.

Peterson and interdisciplinary staff will track the students who participate in classes and research experiences to assess the effectiveness of the program.

Students in the AURAS program will be recruited from high schools with large minority populations whose students who are generally underrepresented in STEM fields.