Bridging the Valley: Recruiting and Retaining STEM Majors

  • Robert Kolvoord James Madison University
  • Robyn Puffenbarger Bridgewater College
  • Raymond McGhee Center for Education Policy, SRI International
  • Roman Miller Eastern Mennonite University
  • Kenneth Overway Bridgwater College
  • Kenneth Phillips Blue Ridge Community College
  • Lynne Ryan Blue Ridge Community College
  • Jennifer Sowers James Madison University
  • Jordan Brown Center for Education Policy, SRI International
Keywords: learning community, summer bridge, retention, mentoring


The Bridging the Valley (BTV) project brought four disparate Virginia institutions of higher education together to increase the number of STEM majors recruited and retained to earn degrees. Funded by the National Science Foundation STEM Talent Expansion Program (STEP), the project used a combination of a summer bridge workshop and a academic-year learning communities to augment students’ science and math knowledge and their attitudes and affective behavior towards these content areas. Overall, the number of STEM majors at the four-year institutions increased by more than 50% during the project, and 70% of students participating in the summer bridge workshop were retained in a STEM major. This finding is significant in that the focus of the project was on students with a STEM interest that typically would not persist in a STEM major to graduation. We conducted a mixed-methods study to evaluate the impact of different project activities and found that students reported increased interest, enthusiasm, and confidence in STEM coursework, as well as improved mathematical skills and readiness for collegiate mathematics. At one institution, the math grades of BTV students were on average 0.7 grade points higher in an introductory calculus class. We generalize findings from this work to share with other institutions seeking to enhance their STEM recruiting and retention.

Author Biographies

Robert Kolvoord, James Madison University
Dean, College of Integrated Science and Engineering Professor, Integrated Science and Technology Professor, Educational Technologies
Robyn Puffenbarger, Bridgewater College
Associate Professor of Biology
Raymond McGhee, Center for Education Policy, SRI International
Senior Education Researcher
Roman Miller, Eastern Mennonite University
Suter Endowed Professor of Biology
Kenneth Overway, Bridgwater College
Associate Professor of Chemistry
Kenneth Phillips, Blue Ridge Community College
Instructor of Physics
Lynne Ryan, Blue Ridge Community College
Associate Professor of Mathematics
Jennifer Sowers, James Madison University
Project Coordinator, Bridging the Valley
Jordan Brown, Center for Education Policy, SRI International
Research Associate