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Icon for: Kathryn Williamson


West Virginia University

FIRST TWO: Improving STEM Persistence in the First Two Years of College

NSF Awards: 1649323

2017 (see original presentation & discussion)


Many of West Virginia’s college students come from rural areas and are the first in their families to pursue a higher degree. However, attending college disconnects students from their tight-knit hometown support systems, and very few persist beyond their first two years of college. To better understand the barrier of persistence and to solve the problem of attrition, the FIRST TWO INCLUDES Project brings together Community College and University leaders, National Lab STEM professionals, and Rural Education experts. Our plan is to integrate early experience in STEM internships, online communities of practice, and STEM skills development into a discovery-based "principles of research and development" college seminar for first year students. Our goal is for the course to be transferrable such that it can be scaled to institutions around West Virginia and across the Appalachian region. By re-framing the connection to home as an asset, we will sustain engagement through a second service learning course called “STEM Leadership.” The FIRST TWO “Hometown Ambassadors” who take this course will develop communication skills and will mentor younger students. They will go back to their hometowns to reach out to students they actually know and work with teachers and school board members of the schools they attended, thereby becoming agents of change in their own communities. Because of the FIRST TWO project, we will be able to determine the feasibility of a National STEM Persistence Alliance that partners National Lab internship programs with 2 and 4-year schools who serve First Generation College students.

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Discussion from the 2017 STEM for All Video Showcase (5 posts)
  • Icon for: Marcelo Worsley

    Marcelo Worsley

    Assistant Professor
    May 15, 2017 | 10:57 p.m.

    I like how this project is looking to utilize students as ambassadors that can help build and sustain a community of rural first generation college students. I'm also glad to see that you are thinking about both in person and online opportunities for students to engage with others. I think this is important to helping them stay connected. It will also be neat to see how growing this community of scholars will help reshape traditional notions of STEM, and also bring cutting edge STEM ideas to different rural communities.

  • Icon for: Kathryn Williamson

    Kathryn Williamson

    Lead Presenter
    Teaching Assistant Professor
    May 16, 2017 | 11:52 a.m.

    Thank you, Marcelo! We do feel that one of the greatest strengths of our project is that we elevate the voices of those the project serves right from the beginning.

  • Icon for: Marcelo Worsley

    Marcelo Worsley

    Assistant Professor
    May 16, 2017 | 02:39 p.m.

    Are there existing resources that support students in their 3rd and 4th years? Perhaps after two years of support students will have developed a strong enough support/professional network to sustain them through their final years?


    Additionally, have you had any anecdotal feedback from parents about this program?

  • Icon for: Michael Lach

    Michael Lach

    Director of STEM Policy and Strategic Initiatives
    May 16, 2017 | 10:37 p.m.

    This seems like such important work--thank you! I'm wondering what sorts of knowledges/skills/dispositions you find are most helpful (or most easily develop-able) for the ambassadors. Seems like they're at the heart of this work, and many others will be curious what you find helps them most.

  • Icon for: Lauren Amos

    Lauren Amos

    Associate Director
    May 18, 2017 | 07:05 p.m.

    I love, love, love the hometown ambassador component of your program! I've worked with a number of organizations over the years that struggled to implement a similar idea for their first-generation college students. It's nice to learn of a model that is working. In my experience, students from rural communities and first-generation college students often find attending 2-year colleges less intimidating. Has this been the case for your students? Is counseling students about the various academic and career pathways to a STEM career a part of your program (e.g., earning certificates, transitioning to a four-year university, pursuing summer internships)? 

  • Further posting is closed as the event has ended.