Last summer, SUNY Oswego launched an expanded math bridge camp for first-year students in STEM majors. Supported by a SUNY grant for its potential as a template for other colleges and universities, the weeklong camp is a key strategy in the college’s retention efforts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The initiative—SUNY Undergraduate Mathematics Success (SUMS)—will intensify support to an increasingly broad range of incoming students who want to improve college-level math skills to succeed in and complete STEM degree programs or to move on to teach STEM material in schools.

“Nationally, we know that the mathematics gateway courses—such as calculus—are key for STEM success,” said SUMS project leader Adrienne McCormick, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Nationally, higher education institutions are looking for increased STEM retention rates. To make sure we have retention and completion to STEM degrees, it makes a lot of sense to invest in those early mathematics experiences. The math bridge camp is an important part of this.”

SUMS’ project charter—key to a recent SUNY Investment and Performance Fund grant of $750,000 over four years—also lays out plans for a Mathematics Learning Success Center under development in Marano Campus Center, hiring of math tutors and graduate assistants, development of a Math Fellows program for all STEM instructors teaching courses and labs with math components, a review and upgrade of precalculus curriculum leading to better student experiences in calculus, and a system for measuring the success of the SUMS initiative.

“If there are talented students who come here determined to succeed in STEM, we want to make sure they are given every opportunity,” said Scott Preston, chair of the mathematics department.

The camp provides opportunities for students to use ALEKS—an artificially intelligent assessment and learning system—and for faculty to recommend proper placement in the appropriate math gateway courses.

The groundwork for the expanded math bridge camp has been laid in recent years, thanks to a pair of National Science Foundation grants. Fehmi Damkaci of the chemistry faculty, principal investigator on the latest one—a five-year, $873,000 NSF-STEP grant—said the camp is in transition to becoming a permanent option for incoming STEM majors and future teachers. The aim is eventually to expand to all students in data-intensive programs throughout all four schools of SUNY Oswego.

Diversity in STEM majors—more women and more students from underrepresented groups—is another important goal, McCormick said. Shashi Kanbur of the physics faculty has led a five-year, $600,000 NSF S-STEM grant that has contributed to rising numbers of underrepresented student enrollees in the sciences. Grant funds have provided two years of close mentoring to the students, including Oswego’s first-ever summer bridge camp in 2011. l

Mathematics faculty member Chris Baltus worked with students **Marc DiRaimo ’20** (left), an electrical and computer engineering major, and **Aubrey Nooks ’20**, a software engineering major, during a precalculus class in Shineman Center at the college’s summer math bridge camp, part of a comprehensive effort supported by a new SUNY grant to boost retention and completion rates among STEM majors.

The grant will enable the college to increase support services — especially in math and chemistry — and research opportunities for all science, technology, engineering and math majors, with a particular eye to helping younger students avoid academic disqualification, switches to non-STEM majors and other departures from science and math disciplines.

“This will be one piece in the puzzle to streamline success for our students from high school to graduation,” said Associate Dean of Graduate Studies Fehmi Damkaci, assistant professor of chemistry and principal investigator for the grant.

The grant outlines a five-step program to shore up support for freshman and sophomore STEM majors: expanding a summer math camp for incoming STEM majors to include chemistry content and more students; integrating “math in context” components for introductory chemistry and physics classes; expanding and improving the tutoring services available to STEM students; instituting peer mentoring by upperclassmen for freshmen and sophomores; and expanding summer research opportunities for freshmen and sophomores in STEM.

The college plans to expand its Summer Scholars program to offer more opportunities for freshmen and sophomores to work with faculty on research projects.

]]>Faculty Fellow Shashi Kanbur coordinated a $600,000 National Science Foundation grant that launched the math camp while providing $4,000 scholarships to 14 new and 14 returning students pursuing a degree in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields.

The immersive three-week summer program was geared more toward interaction and problem-solving than traditional lecturing, Associate Provost Rameen Mohammadi said.

For one problem — “Would all living humans fit in Lake Ontario?” — students had to calculate volume of the lake, number of people on earth, and other factors while using mathematics concepts like probability and estimation.

“These students were taught in a project-based, group-based, problem-based environment,” Mohammadi said. “There is no doubt that active learning works well in the learning process.”

Mohammadi said administrators would like to find ways to expand the program.

“If these students persist, year after year, both in their disciplines and at the college, that will show the ultimate success of the program,” Mohammadi said. “The goal is to keep students in the sciences. Obviously, the result so far is very promising.”

]]>The proposed program, “Full STEM: Creating Dedicated Science and Math Teachers for a Sustainable Future,” recently obtained the grant through the NSF’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which encourages promising students and professionals to become K-12 math and science teachers, particularly in high-need school districts.

“The whole goal is to try to attract more people into STEM teaching (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) — not just bodies, but more of our best and brightest. There’s a lot of competition,” said Martha Bruch, associate professor of chemistry and principal investigator for the grant.

The program aims to recruit teacher candidates in a number of ways and from a number of sources: partnering with local school districts to build awareness of the science and math teacher education program at SUNY Oswego, helping as many freshman science and math majors as possible discover the rewards of teaching, approaching upper-class STEM majors about teaching as they reach a career decision point, and to find and attract candidates from business and industry during career changes and after retirement.

Bruch pointed out numerous programs already in place to support Full STEM: Rice Creek Biological Field Station, a 400-acre living laboratory rich in field research and teaching opportunities; Project SMART, a cross-school-district, interdisciplinary learning community of teachers, administrators and community leaders across the state; summer research opportunities for undergraduates, as well as a collaboration with the Syracuse Academy of Science; Team Sheldon, a partnership of Oswego County public schools, Oswego County BOCES and the School of Education; and experienced faculty in education and in STEM disciplines.

“This is a really exciting opportunity,” Bruch said. “What gives me optimism that this can be successful is that we have such a network of support.”

]]>