Hands-On Learning in Classroom Significantly Boosts STEM Retention

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Recent studies have confirmed that students who participate in hands on research are much more likely to complete a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) degree. Course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) are likely having this effect on student’s success, because they allow students to use the same problem solving, creativity, and math skills they would use in an actual STEM career.

Data analyzed by researchers at the Texas Institute for Discovery Education in Science, from more than 4,000 students, showed that those who participated in the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) increased their likelihood of graduating from 71 to 94 percent! They also found that students who participated in FRI were more likely to graduate increasing their chances from 66 to 83 percent.

“Students who participate in FRI are more likely to graduate from college and are more likely to finish a STEM major,” stated Erin Dolan, executive director of the Texas Institute for Discovery Education in Science.

The Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) takes students and places them in one of 25 different areas in the life sciences, physical sciences, and computer science; allowing them to make significant discoveries that can impact the world beyond their university walls. This intimate engagement with the practice and methodologies of STEM is what is driving these students to stay in the field.

FRI projects vary from programming autonomous robots, identifying wine varieties based on their chemistry, or developing diagnostic tools for the Zika virus.

The success of the FRI program has not gone unnoticed. Six other universities have begun to replicate a similar approach where students learn by hands on research projects, and it is expected that more universities will continue this trend.

“This study provides the first good evidence, with a large and diverse population of students, that such exposure through undergraduate research has dramatic benefits for all students, substantially improving both graduation rates in STEM and overall graduation rates. Every university ought to be looking closely at these results as they think about how to improve the quality of STEM education provided to their students,” stated Carl Wieman, a Stanford University physics and education professor.

All this is good news as STEM professionals are in high demand. A 2012 report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology stated that the U.S. will need to produce about one million more STEM professionals in the next decade that previously predicted.

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