STEM Students Stay a Step Ahead at UIW

September 24, 2020

UIW student checks a bottleSan Antonio – Three summer STEM programs at the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) continued to help students stay ahead of their preparation programs amid the pandemic. All three programs: CHEM-Start, STEM-Start and NURSE-Start, pivoted to an online format over the summer.

“Our goal is to make it possible to help reinforce and fill-in math and science foundation skills of students enabling them to be successful in their college chemistry and math courses,” says Dr. John Stankus, UIW professor of chemistry. “The original model for each was an intensive in-person program with faculty mentorship. The current pandemic did not allow for that this summer, but we were able to go online and still give our students a great opportunity to succeed.”

The three programs are CHEM-Start, which prepares students for the first general chemistry course, STEM-Start, which prepares students for the college algebra course and allows students to accelerate from zero level math preparation classes into their core math, and NURSE-Start, which prepares students for the nursing chemistry sequence.

“Taking a developmental math course, that does not count toward a degree, can be time consuming for students,” says Amanda Rakowitz, UIW senior instructor in the STEM-Start program. “Circumventing this requirement accelerates a student’s path to graduation. The UIW math summer STEM-Start opportunities have given hundreds of students the opportunity to successfully catapult into their core math course.”

Since it was started in 2013, STEM-Start has assisted 240 students to be ready for college algebra. Of the students who successfully completed the course, 75% received passing grades in their core math classes proving to be at a higher rate than their peers.

While the challenges of the pandemic forced all the programs online, it did not deter participation. The CHEM-Start program in particular saw participation soar to 67 students. That online program worked with students to complete mastery of 95 foundational topics. In addition to one-on-one mentoring, the faculty developed short instructional videos for particularly challenging topics. The chemistry department is monitoring the progress of all students and will analyze the efficacy of the program at the end of the semester.

“CHEM-Start allows us to engage our students, while filling in any gaps in their preparation to enable them to succeed in chemistry,” says Stankus. “Students completing CHEM-Start earn A’s and B’s in the Chemical Principles I class at almost twice the rate as their peers. A solid foundation in chemistry is necessary for student success in many fields especially medicine, pharmacy and optometry.”

In addition, the NURSE-Start program has assisted 84 students in preparing for nursing chemistry, with some students being so well-prepared they can by-pass the introductory chemistry course. NURSE-Start consists of 167 topics, completion of which allows students to be placed directly into Biological Chemistry classes moving them closer to entering the rigorous UIW nursing program.

“The Pre-Nursing Chemistry Head-Start Program gives participants an edge in their chemistry courses and a chance to network with other students,” says Dr. Julian Davis, chemistry professor. “Advanced students can even matriculate directly into the second semester of the sequence. This program has helped dozens of pre-nursing students to be successful in their chemistry courses over the past few years.”

The CHEM-Start program was structured so that it would be free to the students if they completed at least 95 topics or worked at least 35 hours in the ALEKS adaptive learning system. The STEM-Start and NURSE-Start program had similar support for students.