Bridging the Valley: A STEP Ahead for STEM Majors | SRI International

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Bridging the Valley: A STEP Ahead for STEM Majors

SRI is evaluating the progress of programs that aim to reverse the trend of declining enrollment in STEM programs at four Virginia colleges, and increase the diversity of STEM majors at each institution.

In the face of declining STEM enrollments, four neighboring institutions in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley came together to support STEM recruitment and retention on their campuses with funding from the National Science Foundation’s STEM Talent Expansion Program (STEP). Working with SRI International, James Madison University, Blue Ridge Community College, Eastern Mennonite University, and Bridgewater College undertook a six-year project to enhance student retention in STEM on each campus. The partnership, dubbed Bridging the Valley (BTV), developed a set of interventions designed to actively improve student retention in the STEM disciplines. A summer bridge workshop and collaborative learning communities, implemented during the academic year, were two of the most substantive interventions included in the BTV program. 

SRI International designed a mixed method evaluation over a six year period whose goal was to document the implementation of the BTV activities and provide formative feedback to program developers on each campus to refine and improve the program. The data collection and analysis strategies focused on the student recruitment and retention activities, the way these activities and supports affected students, and how the different institutions adapted to support the retention of these students. A variety of methods were utilized to collect data regarding the two main components of the BTV program: (1) Summer Bridge Workshop and (2) Collaborative Learning Communities. The data collection methods for both components included

  • Annual Student and faculty surveys
  • Annual Interviews with project leadership
  • Annual Focus groups with faculty and students
  • Pre- and post-assessments of the mathematics course for each new student cohort. 

This project allowed four distinct institutions to collaborate on an extended project that helped contribute to significant growth in the retention of STEM majors across disciplines in Central Virginia. Students’ performance on math assessments and participant survey responses indicate that the program’s efforts to enhance math competencies were successful. Approximately 60% of the program’s over 300 participants persisted in their STEM majors and graduated.  In addition to enhancing the retention of undergraduate STEM majors, survey data also strongly suggested that the project was successful in spurring participants’ interests in post-graduate STEM opportunities.  A survey of upperclassmen participants indicated that 63% of respondents planned on obtaining graduate degrees in STEM fields after graduation.

Co-Principal Investigator and Project Director: Raymond McGhee