Fort Lewis College received a first-place $25,000 award from the U.S. National Science Foundation for its top submission in the Taking Action: COVID-19 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Challenge. FLC presented the evidence-based steps the College continues to take to mitigate the long-term negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the diversity, equity, and inclusion of undergraduate students in STEM programs. FLC was selected as the top four-year undergraduate school in the country for its innovative approach to ensuring equity-focused STEM education.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significant continuing effects on educational institutions and student educational success. Some of these effects will be short-term, but many likely have long-term implications for an entire generation of students. At FLC, all of these issues are more challenging for Native American students, and they all specifically impact success in STEM fields where college readiness is critical.
Over the past two years, FLC has initiated or is initiating several innovative systemic changes to mitigate these effects and create an environment that supports success for all students.
"We are thrilled NSF has selected us as the first-prize winner for four-year institutions in their COVID-19 Challenge,” said Cheryl Nixon, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “We are even more thrilled that our STEM students are benefitting from the programs that NSF is recognizing.”
The three systemic efforts at FLC acknowledged by NSF include First-year Launch courses, holistic student support services, and foundational mathematics support. First-year Launch has seen high satisfaction ratings from students, as have the Academic Hub's wrap-around retention support programs, including Peer Education, Academic Success Coaches, and Circle Back. The foundational mathematics support includes supplemental instruction, STEM CORE, and summer programming like Maymester, which have transformed student readiness and success. The three combined efforts improve retention and will ultimately improve STEM baccalaureate degree conferral in the long term.
The short-term impacts of COVID-19 revealed challenges in student academic preparedness. Many challenges have been exacerbated among Native American students, especially those pursuing STEM degrees. Before COVID-19, first-to-second year retention rates among Native students increased from 55% to 67% between 2015-2019; however, for the 2020 first-year cohort, there was a 20% decline to 47%. The good news is that the retention rates from Spring 2022 to Fall 2022 are rebounding to pre-COVID rates, demonstrating that the strategies recognized by the NSF award are working.
FLC’s three-pronged approach focuses on removing any lingering barriers resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and providing pathways to success for underserved students, particularly in STEM fields. The programs address college readiness in first-year students from an academic and social point of view and also address general barriers to student retention.
"Our students are achieving more equitable academic results and great academic satisfaction due to our first-year launch programming, mathematics supplemental programming, and our Academic Hub's tutoring and coaching. It is an honor to be recognized by NSF for this work."
“Our students are achieving more equitable academic results and great academic satisfaction due to our first-year launch programming, mathematics supplemental programming, and our Academic Hub's tutoring and coaching,” Nixon said. “It is an honor to be recognized by NSF for this work."
NSF distributed $200,000 in cash prizes and acknowledged many institutions with honorable mentions. Fort Lewis College was awarded the largest dollar amount within the four-year STEM undergraduate category, including the institutions of Pacific Lutheran University, North Carolina A&T University, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Notre Dame, and others.
For a complete list of the winners, visit nsf.gov/ehr/Covid19Challenge/Winners.jsp.