American International Journal of Social Science

ISSN 2325-4149(Print), ISSN 2325-4165(Online) DIO: 10.30845/aijss

Fostering a STEM Learning Community to Promote Student Interest in STEM Disciplines
Kimberly Smith-Burton, Ph.D.; Erin N. White, Ph.D.; Perry Gillespie, Ph.D.

The main goal of the Fayetteville State University’s (FSU) STEM Learning Community (SLC) is to spur the interest of a greater number of freshmen in STEM disciplines through the participation in the learning community. There is a significant body of research supporting learning communities for boosting students' learning and academic achievement. A learning community is an innovative, "inquiry-based" educational strategy, which has been adopted at many colleges and universities in the nation. The concept of a professional learning community is based on the premise from the business sector regarding the capacity of organizations to learn. Modified to fit the world of higher education, the concept of a learning organization became that of a learning community that would strive to provide an environment of interaction, connection, encouragement, and support for first-year students seeking to enroll in a STEM major or program. One of the elements of a successful academic STEM program involves extensive mentoring received by program participants at different performance levels. The sense of being welcomed on campus can be attributed to students’ involvement in learning communities (Killeen, 2001). Learning communities provide an affordable and comprehensive method of addressing a variety of issues such as improving student retention, promoting student engagement and success, promoting curricular coherence, building a sense of community, and promoting student learning. The SLC provides an opportunity for participating STEM faculty to integrate 100-level courses in mathematics/computer science or in biology/chemistry into clusters that promote curricular coherence for incoming freshmen. Learning communities have been developed by the FSU University College for few disciplines since 2005, but implementation in STEM was only recently started in fall 2008. All incoming freshmen with an intended STEM major are required to enroll in a yearlong SLC. Students are enrolled in one of three clusters based on their STEM discipline: math, computer science or chemical/biological sciences. Each SLC cluster will have a STEM faculty serving as the SLC Team Leader and the instructor for the Freshman Seminar I/II (UNIV 101/102). The SLC Team Leader will restructure the Freshman Seminar course and associated course materials (Freshman Seminar text) to have a STEM oriented focus as a mechanism for early engagement of STEM majors. This articlewill share how the Fayetteville State University’s current SLC model is used to support, enhance and supplement the goal of the Robert E. Noyce Scholarship Program. The goal of the Noyce Program is to encourage STEM majors to double major in either mathematics and secondary mathematics education or biology and secondary biology education.

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