Background

Summary

  • In the 1980s, students from particular groups were leaving science at a greater rate than other students.
  • Barriers to achievement were found to be unsuccessful acclimation, different learning styles, and a lack of mentoring and role models. 
  • The pre-orientation program, curricular reform, community building, and increased student-faculty research opportunities initiated by the Grinnell Science Project (GSP) became pathways to success. 
  • By the 2000s, there were comparable rates of science major completion for all groups of students, and the GSP had become a significant national model.

Background Details

The Grinnell Science Project (GSP) was created in the early 1990s to address a problem indicated by data faculty and staff gathered about Grinnell students. It was found that students—particularly those of color, women, and first-generation college students—were entering Grinnell College with an avowed interest in pursuing degrees in the sciences, but abandoning their academic goals when they failed to do well in introductory sciences courses.

Based upon our data analysis, we concluded that the factors interfering with academic success in the sciences were more likely to be socioeconomic or environmental rather than academic. Our intervention strategy, then, needed to be more focused on social issues than on academic remediation.

The three main barriers to success in the sciences experienced by students we identified as members of groups that are under-represented in the sciences were:

  • unsuccessful acclimation to college life,
  • learning styles that do not respond to traditional pedagogy, 
  • and a lack of mentoring and role models.

Drawing on national studies and efforts, the program now called the Grinnell Science Project was devised over a series of years. It has involved curricular changes, activities and structures that foster acclimation to college life and a community of scientists, and improvement of student achievement.

The Grinnell Science Project includes program objectives designed to respond to each barrier:

  • To provide role models and contexts for the study of science through mentoring and community building
  • To respond to different learning styles through creating interactive science/mathematics courses and increased opportunities for mentored research
  • To foster acclimation to college life through providing a pre-orientation

Funding

The Grinnell Science Project was developed at Grinnell College with funds from the Lilly Endowment, Inc, the National Science Foundation, General Telephone and Electronic Foundation, and Grinnell College.

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