Georgia Journal of Science


STEM retention is a national challenge. Recent literature suggests that students leave STEM for many reasons including lack of context, lack of academic preparedness for entering college, and challenges with quantitative reasoning. These observations compelled us to design an introductory, transdisciplinary STEM lab course which we describe herein. This course was designed to integrate the disciplines of biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics with activities that engage students in real-world, inquiry-based exercises and help students develop quantitative reasoning skills. Assessment showed that students in this STEM lab have higher STEM retention rates than those in equivalent disciplinary courses. The largest gains in STEM retention were seen in the 4th semester for students who took the lab as underclassmen. Additionally, student surveys indicated that students found the context of the lab compelling. In contrast, there were no significant differences in gains in quantitative literacy and reasoning or GPA among STEM lab students and students in discipline-specific labs. These results suggest that students’ engagement in applications of STEM with context might be more important for increasing retention than just focusing on academic ability alone.


This research was supported by a grant from the Complete College Georgia STEM Innovation Initiative. The authors would like to thank Marcus Brewer from the UNG Office of Institutional Effectiveness for providing student retention and GPA data. In addition, the authors would like to thank the UNG College of Science & Mathematics for their support of this work and Gregg Velatini from the Department of Mathematics for his help in designing the course. Author Caroline Brown is a student who was also part of the initial STEM treatment group but did not participate as a student in the qualitative survey. This research was supported by a grant from the Complete College Georgia STEM Innovation Initiative.