Components of a
for Minority Engineering Students
Minnie M. McGee, Audeen W. Fentiman
Historical data gathered and assessed as part of the Gateway
Engineering Education Coalition program at The Ohio State University indicated
that only about 1 in 10 minority engineering students with math placement below
college algebra completed a degree in engineering. A significant fraction of incoming minority
engineering students, some with excellent high school grades, do not perform
well on Ohio State’s math placement test and begin their math sequence below
college algebra. A year-long series of
activities was proposed to improve these students’ chances of completing an
engineering degree. This paper describes
three of those activities and provides some preliminary data on the
results. The first activity was a course
entitled Strategies for Academic Success.
This course was open to all minority engineering students since the
skills presented could be of benefit to all, and the older or stronger students
could provide some leadership in class.
The second activity, a mathematics tutoring session conducted by
Data from a 10-year Gateway-sponsored study of enrollment and graduation rates of minority engineering students at The Ohio State University shows that the academic performance and graduation rate of PREFACE participants are generally better than those of minority engineering students who have similar backgrounds but who did not have the PREFACE experience. However, students in the PREFACE program are generally ones who begin their math sequence
in college algebra or higher. Results of the
Gateway-sponsored study show that approximately 30 percent of the incoming
minority engineering students at
During Winter Quarter of 1999,
This paper describes the Strategies for Academic Success course, the math tutoring program, and the study session and counseling program. It provides information on the content and structure of each program and the results to date.
During Winter Quarter of 1999, the Academic Committee of the
National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) asked their advisors for a workshop
to improve the academic performance of their members. In response to that request,
After completing the course, participants were expected to be able to apply effective note-taking and time management strategies, to formulate and ask questions that facilitated optimum learning, to set realistic goals for academic success, to accurately access their performance at all times, to improve overall study and test-taking skills, and to deal with issues related to race and gender in an effective manner.
The mean grade point average of the group in Winter Quarter 1999 was 2.31. During the quarter they enrolled in the course their average GPA was 2.71. Subsequently, it reached a high of 3.18 in Winter 2000. While their average GPA dropped some in following quarters, it never dropped as low as the pre-course level.
For the next academic year, the course was modified and taught by Minority Engineering Program staff. In Autumn and Winter Quarters of 1999 and 2000, certain minority students who were experiencing academic difficulty were invited to enroll. In Spring Quarter other non-minority students were included. Approximately ten students enrolled each quarter. The topics covered were similar to those covered in the initial course. However, the MEP course involved much more student participation.
Both the Autumn and Winter Quarter groups showed improvement during the quarter they were enrolled in the course. The Spring Quarter group’s GPA dropped slightly, but has shown marked improvement since then. In general, all groups seem to have benefited from participating in the course. See the chart below.
Tutoring for Math 104 Students
The course facilitators met with the group weekly in one-hour sessions. The first 10-15 minutes were reserved for discussion. Topics included: developing a personal mission statement, selecting or developing an academic skills-building plan, and an ongoing evaluation of the implementation of their chosen plan. Students were encouraged to share successful strategies.
At least two thirds of each session was spent in active problem-solving. The facilitators stressed mastery learning and helped students discover techniques for improving their skills as well as increasing the depth of their understanding.
Upon completing the program, successful participants were expected to be able to set realistic goals for academic success; to employ proper note-taking and time management strategies; to formulate and ask questions that facilitate optimum learning; to employ proven strategies to study more efficiently and effectively; and to apply techniques learned to improve performance on homework, mid-terms, and final exams.
Hand-outs developed for the Strategies for Academic Success course were made available to the students. They were also encouraged to bring their math text books and other “excellent” math reference texts which they had found to class.
The group was too small to make formal statistical conclusions about the effectiveness of the Academic year bridge program. However, the data does reflect that the students who participated performed better than those who did not attend.
The material covered during the study sessions was related to the specific course work. The objective was to change the student’s way of thinking from the paradigm of competition learned in high school to one of collaboration and cooperation used in the upper level engineering courses as well as in industry. The students worked together on their homework assignments and also received help from the facilitator whenever possible. The facilitator was especially effective in keeping the group on task. In addition, he constantly gave advice on studying, learning to manage weekly schedules, preparing for tests and developing effective communication skills. The groups were also encouraged to set up extra study sessions on their own during their free time, particularly on the weekends. The premise was that group interaction would enable the students to gain a deeper understanding of difficult concepts while making studying more fun. The expectation was that the students would get together to study more often and in general would increase their study time.
Participants generally showed improvement in mathematics performance. They learned to work productively in collaborative learning situations, to set goals, to prioritize and optimize the use of resources available to them.
The data collected for the winter quarter showed that those who attended these study sessions regularly performed better than those who attended irregularly or did not attend at all. The same observation held for Spring Quarter. This suggests that those who attended these study sessions were more focused and determined to be successful.
The common problem encountered during both quarters was poor attendance. Although regular phone calls and emails were made and sent respectively, the responses fell well short of expectation.
All of the strategies showed potential for significantly improving the performance of the targeted students. However, a major problem encountered by administrators of all of the activities described in this paper was the challenge of getting eligible students to recognize the need, or to appreciate the rewards for participating. Yet an analysis of the performance of all eligible students verify that some type of intervention strategy to improve the academic performance of a number of engineering freshmen, especially those who place at the lower levels in mathematics, is critical to giving them any reasonable chance of succeeding in the study of engineering.
This project is related to the Gateway Engineering Education Coalition (NSF Award EEC-9444246), which is supported in part by the Engineering Education and Centers Division of the National Science Foundation.
MINNIE M. MCGEE is an
Assistant Dean in the
AUDEEN W. FENTIMAN was
serving as Associate Dean of Engineering when the work described in this paper
was completed. She holds BS and MA
degrees in mathematics and MS and Ph.D. degrees in