The first semester of college is an exciting time for students, but living in a different environment, adapting to university academics and making friends can cause anxiety. That’s why The University of Tulsa is introducing a STEM Bootcamp to prepare incoming students for this new and challenging phase in their lives.
Thirty-three participants will begin the TU program Aug. 5 and spend two weeks working on activities involving math, chemistry and academic skill development while completing self-paced math skill sessions and exploring science and engineering career opportunities. Students also will take field trips to facilities such as Fab Lab Tulsa to complete projects that reinforce concepts discussed in the classroom.
Improving the student experience
“The bootcamp is designed to help students feel confident in their abilities and know where to turn if something doesn’t go as planned,” said program coordinator Sheila Givens. “Our goal is to make sure that participants transition into their studies at TU with motivation and preparation and possess tools that can help them succeed to the point of graduation.”
Givens said students should expect an intense two weeks of college prep, but she also recognizes that learning occurs off campus. Some of the additional science and engineering excursions planned around Tulsa include stops at ONEOK Field and The Gathering Place.
The College of Engineering and Natural Sciences is sponsoring the program and will pick up the tab for participants’ first-semester math and chemistry books — a $400 value.
TU studied other university summer programs to identify best practices before developing its custom model. “We looked at a lot of schools close to us in the state or similar in size. We chose a program with carryover into the semester because that’s when it becomes real to students — four weeks in, they’ve got their first mid-term,” said Amy Schachle, senior math instructor and lead faculty for the bootcamp.
The summer session and six follow-up meetings are an incentive for students because those who complete the program will earn class credit. Once the semester begins, Schachle said the STEM Bootcamp participants will be required to check in regularly with her and Gabriel LeBlanc, Wellspring Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, to evaluate how they are adapting to their classes and college life. Providing extra resources, boosting skills and starting the college transition process early are all priorities to improve the student experience, which program organizers hope will result in higher retention and graduation rates.
Math + chemistry = STEM foundation
LeBlanc said his role as a faculty adviser involves teaching students how to apply chemistry principles differently than they did in high school. Presenting these basic concepts before the semester begins could prevent some students from leaving the major.
“During a traditional chemistry course, there’s so much content to cover so quickly that we don’t get to spend very much time discussing how to set up problems to solve them,” LeBlanc explained. “Students who don’t understand that baseline information within the first week or two of the semester are destined to do poorly in class. If we can master some of this material on the front end, then chemistry won’t become a deterrent to their career path.”
Although math and chemistry are the two main topics that Schachle and LeBlanc will teach, representatives from TU’s Center for Student Academic Success will lead sessions on study skills, identifying and applying personal learning styles, notetaking, conquering test anxiety and exam prep, goalsetting and more. “It’s important we break down some of those barriers to tutoring, studying and taking notes the right way,” LeBlanc explained.
Students with STEM plans
Givens said many of the students invited to attend the bootcamp program are interested in using a STEM degree to advance health care or pursue other philanthropic projects that make a difference globally. To become a scientist or engineer, Schachle said it all begins with a strong foundation in mathematics.
“We want to make sure they’re ready to hit the ground running,” she said. “We’ve got to make sure they can do college-level math by starting that transition process a little earlier and providing extra resources.”
Givens explained the program is designed to improve student learning, but it is also a learning opportunity for TU. Participant feedback will be used to develop future summer programming and allow TU to better understand how to serve students such as Mai VuLe of Broken Arrow, who wants to one day serve in the medical field.
“I hope to make all types of friends, know the campus better, enjoy dorm life and become more prepared for my classes in the future,” VuLe said. Studying biochemistry is the first step toward her career goal to learn about the chemical processes that occur within living organisms.
“It’s a good opportunity to start in advance on being a college student,” VuLe said. “I’ll already have an idea of what classes are like, and I’ll be able to learn how to make sure I’m ready for each class.”