Return to Program Profiles Cardinal Stritch University

The CIC/Walmart College Success Award allowed Cardinal Stritch University to focus efforts on retaining first-generation students studying in the STEM fields by implementing the STEM Student Retention and Success (SSRS) program. The program addressed three key problem areas for first-generation students: financial challenges, academic challenges, and loss of interest. SSRS scholarships were made available for first-generation STEM students to alleviate their need to work too many hours while enrolled full-time. Seven students were awarded $2,000 the first year, six students in the second year, and five of the second year awardees were renewed in the third year.
The award also enabled the institution to provide increased academic support, start a faculty mentoring program, offer engagement activities, and fund four paid summer research internships. In addition, funds were provided to support an additional part-time science tutor who was hired in November 2010 and by the spring of 2011 had provided services to 53 students. When the part-time tutor left the university, a peer-tutoring program was initiated with a senior biology major and a senior chemistry major so that tutoring was available for organic chemistry as well as for upper-level biology and physics courses. Between September 2011 and May 2012, 27 students were served for a total 120 hours of tutoring.
The SSRS program aimed to help students improve their mathematics and data analysis skills early in the curriculum through a First Year Experience course that all new SSRS scholarship students were required to take; however, there was too little time to organize the course in year one, and there was insufficient interest to offer the course in year two.
Another purpose of the program was to provide the SSRSS scholars with such academic support as help with study skills, test taking, time management, and stress management through a mentoring program. SSRSS scholars were matched with specific faculty members based on degree and career interests and encouraged to use the time spent with their mentor to get academic and career advice as well as learn about opportunities in their field of interest.
One of the most positive effects of the program for first-generation students was the engagement program. Prior to the grant, the department of natural sciences provided little in the way of outside activities other than the senior capstone seminars. Working closely with the pre-med club, faculty members were able to provide a variety of opportunities through which students could come together outside of the classroom and interact with each other and with faculty members. A variety of engagement activities were offered, such as kick-off luncheons, a fall blood drive, trip to a surgery museum, and shadowing of a zoo veterinarian.

Four first-generation students were selected for paid summer internships, which the students described as life-changing opportunities. Through the award, these students were able to work with professionals in their field of interest while earning a modest stipend.

Program Outcomes

The first-year scholars, on average, did well with a cumulative GPA of 3.27 and may not have seen the need to use academic support; however, the second year was a bit more problematic when their average GPA fell to 3.19. This was not unexpected considering that second-year STEM students must deal with the increased academic rigor of the curriculum that includes organic chemistry, considered by most to be a “weed out” course for science majors.
The Faculty Mentoring program failed to enlist much support among students. While 60 percent believed the program was worthwhile in the first year, only 40 percent reported similar positive reactions in year two. This reaction is partly because only a third of the students met with their faculty mentor more than once in a year.
The SRSS Scholars were required to attend two engagement events each semester, and this typically meant that an average of three of the six or seven scholars would attend a planned event, but other students were invited and often attended. Those 17 engagement events were judged to be a successful new addition for the college, and the institution is strengthened as a result. Besides the 15 scholarships that eased the burden of paying for college, the institution also benefitted from the paid summer internships for four of the participants.

Program Updates

Because of the popularity of the engagement program, Cardinal Stritch continues to offer and organize two to three engagement events each semester, although not specifically targeting first-generation students. The college also continues the peer-tutoring program and assists in arranging internships although without any financial support.