Bridging the Valley: Recruiting and Retaining STEM Majors

Robert Kolvoord, Robyn Puffenbarger, Raymond McGhee, Roman Miller, Kenneth Overway, Kenneth Phillips, Lynne Ryan, Jennifer Sowers, Jordan Brown


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.


learning community; summer bridge; retention; mentoring

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Article #1940

JSTEM. ISSN: 1557-5284