Enhancing Learning Power through First-Year Experiences for Students Majoring in STEM Disciplines

Academic programs targeted for first-time students can help their persistence in STEM majors. Our project, ASCEND STEM, included three first-year experiences (FYEs) designed to offer students the skills that would help them successfully traverse potential barriers to academic success. In the FYEs, we sought to strengthen the learning power, improve the academic achievements, and increase the postsecondary success of first-time, full-time freshmen majoring in a STEM discipline. Two models of FYE were offered in three settings—two scenarios were for engineering majors and the third for science and mathematics majors. Both models tested whether the offering of literacy skill building in the context of discipline knowledge acquisition strengthened learning power (as measured by the Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory) and asked whether this could affect academic success and persistence within the STEM major. We found that either model one, integrating literacy skill building and discipline-based concepts into a single course (the approach used in science and math), or model two, pairing a literacy skill building course with either a discipline-based course or a special group support program (the approach used in engineering), improved learning power. Increases in learning power were a valid predictor of improved grades and persistence in engineering where a highquality control group was available.