Expanded Math Camp Key to Retention Effort

Last summer, SUNY Oswego launched an expanded math bridge camp for first-year students in STEM majors. Supported by a SUNY grant for its potential as a template for other colleges and universities, the weeklong camp is a key strategy in the college’s retention efforts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The initiative—SUNY Undergraduate Mathematics Success (SUMS)—will intensify support to an increasingly broad range of incoming students who want to improve college-level math skills to succeed in and complete STEM degree programs or to move on to teach STEM material in schools.

“Nationally, we know that the mathematics gateway courses—such as calcu­lus—are key for STEM success,” said SUMS project leader Adrienne McCormick, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Nationally, higher education institutions are looking for increased STEM retention rates. To make sure we have retention and completion to STEM degrees, it makes a lot of sense to invest in those early mathematics experiences. The math bridge camp is an important part of this.”

SUMS’ project charter—key to a recent SUNY Investment and Performance Fund grant of $750,000 over four years—also lays out plans for a Mathematics Learning Success Center under development in Marano Campus Center, hiring of math tutors and graduate assistants, development of a Math Fellows program for all STEM instructors teaching courses and labs with math components, a review and upgrade of precalculus curriculum leading to better student experiences in calculus, and a system for measuring the success of the SUMS initiative.

“If there are talented students who come here determined to succeed in STEM, we want to make sure they are given every opportunity,” said Scott Preston, chair of the mathematics department.

The camp provides opportunities for students to use ALEKS—an artificially intelligent assessment and learning system—and for faculty to recommend proper placement in the appropriate math gateway courses.

STEM Diversity

The groundwork for the expanded math bridge camp has been laid in recent years, thanks to a pair of National Science Foundation grants. Fehmi Damkaci of the chemistry faculty, principal investigator on the latest one—a five-year, $873,000 NSF-STEP grant—said the camp is in transition to becoming a permanent option for incoming STEM majors and future teachers. The aim is eventually to expand to all students in data-intensive programs throughout all four schools of SUNY Oswego.

Diversity in STEM majors—more women and more students from underrepresented groups—is another important goal, McCormick said. Shashi Kanbur of the physics faculty has led a five-year, $600,000 NSF S-STEM grant that has contributed to rising numbers of underrepresented student enrollees in the sciences. Grant funds have provided two years of close mentoring to the students, including Oswego’s first-ever summer bridge camp in 2011. l

p04-mathclassMathematics faculty member Chris Baltus worked with students Marc DiRaimo ’20 (left), an electrical and computer engineering major, and Aubrey Nooks ’20, a software engineering major, during a precalculus class in Shineman Center at the college’s summer math bridge camp, part of a comprehensive effort supported by a new SUNY grant to boost retention and completion rates among STEM majors.

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