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

Authors: 
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.
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