Toys and Mathematical Options for Retention in Engineering (Toys’n MORE): Initial Implementation of the Four Intervention Strategies

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Conference Proceeding

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This paper presents preliminary data from the initial implementation of a project referred to as Toys and Mathematical Options for Retention in Engineering (Toys'n MORE). The goal of the project is to increase the retention of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) students by 10% at the 15 Penn State regional coalition campuses.

This project is being conducted by the College of Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University through an NSF-funded Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program grant (STEP grant, DUE # 0756992). The project involves the College of Engineering and 15 geographically-dispersed campuses in the Penn State system. These regional campuses offer a number of associate and bachelor STEM degree majors. Although some STEM students receive their degree at one of these regional campuses, many start at a regional campus and then transfer to the largest campus at University Park to complete their degree.

Toys’n MORE is based on four intervention strategies underway at these 15 regional campuses. These strategies include (a) tutoring programs that serve four mathematics courses (three precalculus and one calculus), (b) a freshman toy-based design course called Toy FUN-damentals in which dissection and re-design of toys is used to engage students in a positive environment, (c) a new summer bridge program administered at three regional campuses and designed to assist underrepresented students, who have expressed an interest in engineering, to transition from high school to college, and (d) the assessment and evaluation of the three aforementioned intervention strategies. The strength of this project lies in the comprehensive scope of the interventions as well as its large sample size. To illustrate the breadth of this project, the first semester of the intervention occurred on 15 of the Penn State campuses. It involved seven STEM courses: four as part of the math tutoring strategy (algebra-analytic geometry, trigonometry, a combination of algebra-trig-analytic geometry, and calculus) and three as part of the toy design strategy (freshman engineering design, freshman engineering seminars, and computer-related engineering courses). After the first two semesters of implementation, more than 7300 students were enrolled in the mathematics courses, the toy-based engineering courses, and the summer bridge programs. Covering these courses were fifty math faculty and twenty engineering faculty.

This paper presents the descriptive characteristics and preliminary retention information based on Toys’n MORE data from participants enrolled in the first two semesters of the intervention (Fall 2009 and Spring 2010). Analysis of participant data is underway to examine the student perceptions of course interventions as well as major preferences of participants after one year.

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