STEM Central

A Community of Practice for NSF STEM Projects

EXCEL in a nutshell: building blocks toward creating a learning community for STEM (EXCEL series:post 2)

Welcome to the current installment of my blog describing my experiences, lessons learned, and road bumps as I worked with my many colleagues from the University of Central Florida (UFC) to develop the successful University of Central Florida’s EXCEL program.  I  hope you will enjoy reading about my experiences and garner tips and ideas for making your STEP program successful.

In this post I’d like to provide some background and overview on the EXCEL project.  EXCEL is a STEP program (www.excel.ucf.edu) funded by the National Science Foundation (2006-2012) whose goal is to increase the success of students who pursue a STEM degree at the University of Central Florida (UCF). EXCEL’s focus is in a student’s first two years in college where the highest STEM attrition is observed. EXCEL’s target population is the group of FTIC’s (first time in college students) that chose STEM as their major and whose math SAT scores are in the 2nd and 3rd quartile of the math SAT STEM FTIC’s that UCF attracts. To achieve its goal EXCEL identified two objectives: Objective 1: To recruit 200 students, per year, into the EXCEL program from the aforementioned target population. Objective 2: To retain the recruited students in STEM in higher rates than the students of the control group (i.e., STEM FTIC’s with math SAT scores, belonging to the same quartiles as the EXCEL students, who did not participate in the EXCEL program).

To attain Objective 1 EXCEL has embarked on a number of aggressive marketing strategies such as mailing postcards and brochures to prospective students and their parents, e-mailing prospective students about EXCEL, participating in UCF Open Houses and informing interested UCF students/parents about the benefits of EXCEL, and contacting high school counselors and math and science supervisors of high schools in the State of Florida and informing them of the EXCEL opportunity for their high school seniors. To attain Objective 2 EXCEL has created enhanced educational opportunities for its recruits:  common EXCEL math courses, special EXCEL classes (Applications of Calculus) an EXCEL Tutoring Center for math and science, a designated GTA mentor for each of the EXCEL math classes that closely monitors students’ performance, consistent advising by a dedicated EXCEL first year advisor and the pertinent STEM college advisors, paid undergraduate sophomore research experiences, and many social activities that build stronger bonds amongst the EXCEL students.

The overarching purpose of all of these EXCEL activities is the creation of a learning community, the EXCEL community, which connects students, staff, and faculty with the ultimate goal of increasing the college success of every student participant in this program. 

The EXCEL approach has been successful, and is now a program that has been institutionalized by the University of Central Florida. In the next blog I will share three factors that I believe allowed us to reach this ultimate goal:  Faculty Coalition, Rigorous Assessment, and Administrative Support.   

Thank you for reading about the EXCEL program.  Please do share any thoughts or comments, and please do join us again next time for the third installment!