• Equipping students for STEM success
    Equipping students for STEM success

Students frequently enter college with differing levels of preparation in the STEM disciplines. Recognizing the need to establish a uniform baseline for impactful classrooms, EQUIP (Embracing Quantitative Understanding and the Inquiry Process) hosted a workshop during the summer of 2016 to introduce 21 entering first-year students to collegiate level mathematics. Invited students spent a week on campus honing mathematical skills necessary to ace first-year math and science courses. As one previous EQUIP participant says, the program “took every little concept and taught it at the next level.”

Since then, EQUIP has continued to bring students to campus each year in June for a one-week resident program that provides an immersive, inquiry-based exploration of math concepts, exposure to collegiate expectations of coursework and research, and highlights direct correlations between math and other STEM subjects. Another participant described that EQUIP made her “even more excited to be part of the scientific community here at Southwestern.”

Kendall Richards, professor of mathematics, describes the EQUIP experience as meaningful on both an educational and a personal level:

“The students were not only focused on solidifying their own mathematical foundations, they also enthusiastically supported their peers in this endeavor. This resulted in engaging discussions during which students felt free to ask questions and to communicate their own problem-solving approaches.”

Through this process, students learn conjecture, effective failure and tenacity. Fumiko Futamura, associate professor of mathematics, believes that “because these students had a strong EQUIP peer and professor support system, they were able to learn how to adjust and persevere, and become more confident in their abilities and pursuit of their career goals.”

But this initial, on-campus phase is just part one of EQUIP’s three-component program. In July, EQUIP students continue their coursework via a four-week, self-directed, online module with faculty feedback. Finally, the students are frequently enrolled together in the STEM courses taken in the fall of their first year, and meet as a group twice a month during their first semester.

Rising sophomore EQUIP students who remain interested in the sciences also become eligible for selection into mini SCOPE, a short introduction to engaged research, modeled after Southwestern’s successful SCOPE (Summer Collaborative Opportunities and Experiences) program. During July of both 2017 and 2018, students from across the range of disciplines were matched with faculty peer mentors. For two weeks, these students conducted research alongside their mentor, gaining experience that often led to external REUs in the summers before their junior or senior years. Peer collaboration and faculty mentoring are strong determinants affecting future academic success and persistence.

Perhaps the single most important element of the EQUIP program is the bond cemented between participants—both students and faculty.

In addition to increased empowerment, mathematical confidence, and empirical research exposure, perhaps the single most important element of the EQUIP program is the bond cemented between participants—both students and faculty.

As John Ross, assistant professor of mathematics, observed while helping supervise EQUIP, “The program certainly helped students prepare for the challenges of college mathematics—but far beyond that, the program offered a fantastic opportunity for all of us (professors and students) to interact and bond before the official start of the semester.”

Dr. Ross said that almost half of the Calculus I class he taught in the fall of 2017 participated in EQUIP and it “was the most successful iteration of the class that I have taught.” Furthermore, Dr. Ross explains that the student bonds were so pronounced that they were able to create “a collaborative and caring classroom environment that was a benefit to EQUIPer and non-EQUIPer alike.”

Moreover, the outcomes of such confidence-boosting bonds and experiences extend well beyond the classroom. Dr. Futamura noted that many of the EQUIP students obtained internships and conducted research both at SU and in prestigious paid research experiences for undergraduates as early as their freshman and sophomore years.

EQUIP is funded largely by a generous grant from HEB.