(372t) Using Water to Engage Community College Students and Increase Graduation Rates

Heldt, C. L., Michigan Technological University
Nwamba, C., Wayne County Community College
Radecki, B., Wayne County Community College
Community colleges are home to diverse populations of students. These students are often non-traditional students that have returned to school after many different experiences. Many of the students do not think of a community college degree as a gateway to engineering or other professional careers (Martin et al (2014) Community College Reviews). They view the community college as a technical training school that provides employment opportunities with a two-year degree. However, many of these students are capable and intrigued, but often intimidated, with the idea of receiving a four-year degree. In order to better serve the students that desire a four-year degree and to increase their knowledge of job opportunities with different four-year degrees, a research project was created between Michigan Tech and Wayne County Community College District. The community college students take weekly water samples over the course of a summer project and test the water for biological and chemical components. This is the first time these students have been exposed to an open-ended laboratory without known results. The students complete the 8-week session by creating a poster that demonstrates research they have conducted on the history of their river’s contamination and the experimental results they found. The outcome of this project is to determine if open-ended laboratory experiences increase the students’ likelihood of obtaining a four-year degree in a STEM field. This assessment is ongoing with five years of data comparing student educational outcomes between those that participated in the summer project to students that completed a biology or chemistry course at the same community college. The students who participated in the project were twice as likely to obtain a 4-year degree, obtain a 2-year degree or be enrolled in a 4-year program. This in-progress work demonstrates engagement of a diverse group of students in the Detroit metro area, including career preparation in science or engineering and a method to increase graduation rates for underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.