Creating a STEM Identity: Investment with Return

Janet Callahan, Boise State University
Patricia Pyke, Boise State University
Susan Shadle, Boise State University
R. Eric Landrum, Boise State University


Establishing a strong STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) identity at Boise State University, a metropolitan campus with approximately 3,655 undergraduate STEM students and a total undergraduate enrollment of approximately 19,042 (16,136 FTE) has been an important step toward creating a climate conducive to facilitating fundamental change. Examples of such change include building collaborations among faculty within and across departments, establishing the identity of students as part of a community beyond their chosen major, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of university systems, and perhaps most importantly, developing a framework to think deliberately about ways to effect change. This paper is focused on describing and categorizing the development of a STEM “identity” over the past decade within a metropolitan campus that does not have an overall STEM central mission.

The College of Engineering (CoE), established in 1997 as a result of a regional demand for engineering and computer science graduates, began focusing heavily on student success initiatives in 2004 with support from the Engineering Schools of the West Initiative, through the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. This first wave of initiatives was critically assessed, and engineering student success became a focal point for the CoE. Internal research conducted under this grant exposed numerous roadblocks that impeded students' academic success. In 2010, another large grant, funded through the National Science Foundation Science Talent Expansion Program (STEP), was awarded to increase the numbers of students graduating with STEM degrees. This grant engaged an interdisciplinary, cross-college team of STEM educators passionate about continuous improvement and pedagogical reform. Six months after the STEP grant launch, a second grant was awarded, a NSF Innovation through Institutional Integration (I^3) grant. All activities associated with these grants were deliberately categorized as “STEM” activities, in order to benefit all STEM students and faculty. This had the added benefit of unifying the STEM community and helping launch a sense of common purpose among STEM faculty and staff. We discuss a framework and present supporting cases to show how developing a STEM identity has been a critical step towards cross-curricular integration and improvements in pedagogical development, structures, policies and a sense of STEM community.