FIRST TWO: Improving STEM Persistence in the First Two Years of College
Many of West Virginia’s college students come from rural areas and are the first in their families to pursue a higher degree. However, attending college disconnects students from their tight-knit hometown support systems, and very few persist beyond their first two years of college. To better understand the barrier of persistence and to solve the problem of attrition, the FIRST TWO INCLUDES Project brings together Community College and University leaders, National Lab STEM professionals, and Rural Education experts. Our plan is to integrate early experience in STEM internships, online communities of practice, and STEM skills development into a discovery-based "principles of research and development" college seminar for first year students. Our goal is for the course to be transferrable such that it can be scaled to institutions around West Virginia and across the Appalachian region. By re-framing the connection to home as an asset, we will sustain engagement through a second service learning course called “STEM Leadership.” The FIRST TWO “Hometown Ambassadors” who take this course will develop communication skills and will mentor younger students. They will go back to their hometowns to reach out to students they actually know and work with teachers and school board members of the schools they attended, thereby becoming agents of change in their own communities. Because of the FIRST TWO project, we will be able to determine the feasibility of a National STEM Persistence Alliance that partners National Lab internship programs with 2 and 4-year schools who serve First Generation College students.