Research in STEM Education

Freshmen Scholars Institute 

The Princeton University Freshmen Scholars Institute (FSI) aims to engage a highly motivated community of incoming freshmen in rigorous coursework and meaningful social and professional development. As evidenced by the existing research literature, summer bridge programs, like the FSI increase retention and graduation rates, and improve students’ self-efficacy and social capital. Many of the existing studies primarily use quantitative data to draw conclusions. The voices of the summer bridge participants, who are often first-generation, low-income students, are missing from the literature. To begin to fill these gaps in the literature, CST is conducting a research study on the FSI. The guiding research question is: As described by the students, what is the lived experience and longitudinal impact of the FSI? In particular, we are interested in describing the FSI through the students’ voices, with a focus on the quantitative reasoning (QR) course and new science and engineering (STL) courses for STEM majors. We are also interested in gaining the students’ perspective on the longitudinal impact of the FSI on their persistence in a STEM major, on their overall scientific literacy, and on their overall satisfaction with the undergraduate experience at Princeton University.

CEE 262 Structures and the Urban Environment

Students in this course are exposed to fundamental ideas in civil and structural engineering through the great works of pioneering engineers. A central message of this course is that engineering is a creative discipline that allows for creative and aesthetic explorations within constraints. CEE 262 is open to all majors and is offered every spring semester. The course enrolls approximately 150 students each spring semester. The Council developed and implemented a mixed-methods study to evaluate the impact of the course on students’ cognition and affect. Preliminary findings from the study revealed: 89% of students experienced moderate to great gain in interest in engineering; 85% reported moderate to great gain in recognizing engineering as a creative profession; 83% indicated moderate to great gain in understanding how engineering helps people address real world issues; and, on average, 78% of students reported a moderate to great gain in their STEM abilities. Evaluation of the course will be on-going and aligned with the recently awarded National Science Foundation (see Synergistic Activities section).

Physics 103/104 General Physics

In an effort to enhance the traditional calculus-based introductory physics course, a teaching experiment was undertaken in Physics 103/104 during the 2013-2014 academic year. Specifically, Dr. Katerina Visnjic utilized the Investigative Science Learning Environment (ISLE) curriculum in her labs, while the other sections maintained the labs and pedagogy of previous years. The two key features of the ISLE curriculum include involving students in the development of their own ideas and encouraging students to represent physical process in multiple ways, thus helping them develop productive representations for qualitative reasoning and for problem solving. The Council was invited to explore the cognitive and affective gains for students in Dr. Visnjic’s lab. As such, the Council developed and implemented a pilot study during the 2013-2014 academic year. The results of that pilot informed the development and implementation of the 2014-2015 study. The questions guiding the CST study were: As described by the students, what were the PHY 103/104 course goals? How do students describe the ISLE and traditional labs? To what extent did students relate the physics concepts and procedural skills acquired in PHY 103/104 to their everyday lives? Preliminary findings from the pilot study were presented at the American Association of Physics Teachers 2015 Summer Meeting.