L. Blanchard, M. Foroozesh, T.S. Coston, E.Y. Hammer

Xavier University of Louisiana (UNITED STATES)
Xavier University of Louisiana is a historically Black and Catholic university that is nationally recognized for its science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curricula. During the past decade, Xavier has ranked first nationally in the number of African Americans earning undergraduate degrees in biology, chemistry, physics, and the physical sciences. Seventy percent of Xavier’s undergraduates major in the sciences, and Xavier is a national leader in the number of STEM majors who go on to receive M.D.s and Ph.D.s in science and engineering. Despite Xavier’s advances in this area, African Americans still earn less than 10% of bachelor’s degrees, less than 7% of master’s degrees, and less than 3% of doctoral degrees conferred in STEM disciplines in the nation. Additionally, although many well-prepared, highly motivated students are attracted by Xavier’s reputation in the sciences, most of these students, though bright and capable, receive inadequate preparation at the secondary school level in science and mathematics and so are academically underprepared to succeed in STEM majors.

The Innovation through Institutional Integration (I-CUBED) Program is designed to address this under-preparedness in Xavier’s STEM freshman population, and ease the transition of students from high school through the first year of college. The I-CUBED Program is built on the notion that, while the University has made significant progress in developing individual initiatives for improving freshman recruitment and retention in STEM disciplines, these initiatives must be effectively integrated and evaluated in order for them to be successful. Activities under I-CUBED constitute a multi-pronged approach to address those factors that discourage the success of underrepresented minority students in STEM majors.
I-CUBED activities include revising and developing new courses in Xavier’s freshman STEM curricula. STEM faculty members propose and receive support for course development or modification projects that enhance the learning and retention of freshmen. The introductory series of biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics courses have been revised to enhance curricular content and/or to add innovative pedagogical components. The modifications serve a variety of purposes including addition of new knowledge, enhancement of critical thinking, scientific reasoning, and computer literacy skills, and the inclusion of real-world applications.

Most of the changes have been implemented, with minor modifications and assessment still ongoing. Some projects show early success, with the most notable of these being the approximately 20% increase in the number of students who successfully complete developmental mathematics since the integration of the I-CUBED-funded modifications. The I-CUBED model has generated a more unified approach to the development and refinement of introductory STEM courses with best practices and “lessons learned” emerging from the curricular modifications. Additionally, intra- and inter-departmental communication and collaboration have significantly increased among STEM faculty. In addition to individual courses showing positive results related to retention of STEM students, overall assessment of the I-CUBED Program has demonstrated improved retention of STEM students since the integration of its curricular modifications and various activities into the academic experiences of Xavier’s STEM freshmen.