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Early identification of STEM readiness and targeted academic interventions
Start date: Oct 1, 2014, End date: Sep 30, 2017 PROJECT  FINISHED 

For Europe to remain at the forefront of scientific and technological development, the current shortage of persons trained in these fields at secondary and higher education has to be overcome. While some progress has been made in increasing enrolment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs in most European countries as stipulated by the Lisbon Objectives, the most pressing problem is now that of low retention (i.e., high dropout) rates in STEM programs. This project aims to improve the retention rates of higher education STEM programs by focusing on the academic readiness of incoming STEM-students. We will identify among incoming STEM students those that are at high risk of dropout and may thus need additional support and we will support those students with the help of intervention programs in the early phase of their studies. To achieve the above goal three different objectives will be realized: We will identify the key STEM skills (objective 1). And once these are characterized, existing diagnostic tests are selected and their predictive power will be gauged in order to identify with high validity the at-risk students in need of extra support (objective 2). Finally, we will investigate which intervention tools can support these at-risk students and we will measure the effectiveness of current remediation programs (objective 3). Special attention will be paid during this project to first generation students (i.e., students who have parents without a degree in higher education) and the specific problems they may experience. Led by the University of Leuven (KU Leuven), the project will be carried out by three key partners (Hamburg University of Technology [TUHH], University of Zilina and KU Leuven), three supporting partners (Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Aalto University, and University of Birmingham) and the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI) as a network partner. The three key partners have prior experience in STEM education research and will therefore organize and structure the required research activities. The supporting partners will provide additional relevant data and organize case studies at their universities. Our network partner will help to disseminate the results of the project. The above objectives are reflected in seven work packages, focusing on (1) survey of existing practice for identification and intervention, (2) qualitative research, (3) quantitative research (questionnaire), (4) quantitative research (case studies at the partner institutions), (5) dissemination and sustainability, (6) transnational meetings, and (7) project management and quality checks. The intellectual output of this project consists of several elements. The most important are (1) a final report on the project website in which the essential key STEM skills, the associated diagnostic test with predictive power and the effective intervention tools are included (as well as a critical analysis and a conclusion) and (2) a set of guidelines specifically dedicated to our stakeholders (secondary schools, staff of student advisory centers, instructors, and the management). The most important impact of this project is expected on the first-year students of the participating institutions since this project will offer them a test and clear view on the key skills required for STEM-studies, giving them the opportunity to anticipate and to select the right subject during secondary education and to participate in intervention programs that help them to develop these skills before or at the beginning of the academic year. This results in several longer term benefits such as an improved chance to succeed at the end of the first-year higher STEM education (especially for first generation students), a reduced dropout in STEM programs and an improved student orientation.

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