Case Study: Research and Course Development

by ahepler

Research and Course DevelopmentThe 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.

The Council on Science and Technology was honored to work with the Office of the Dean of the College, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Department of Molecular Biology to develop and evaluate two new courses for the FSI. 


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.

Research and Course DevelopmentThe 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.


Executive Summaries:
Conference Proceedings: 
  • Laffey, E. H., Houck, A. A., Gmachl, C., & Duvvuri, V. (2015). Foundations of Engineering; A Credit-Bearing Course for the Princeton University Freshmen Scholars Institute. Paper presented at the Seventh Annual First Year Engineering Experience conference, Roanoke, VA. [Download]


Some of the salient features of summer bridge and first-year engineering experiences that contribute to student success include: using evidenced-based teaching practices, providing opportunities for students to engage in authentic scientific and engineering endeavors early-and-often, and cultivating opportunities to enhance faculty-student interaction [4]-[6]. To address issues of student retention and satisfaction with STEM majors, the 2015 FSI summer bridge program will introduce two new courses: MOL 152 Laboratory Research in the Life Sciences  and EGR/STC 150 Foundations of Engineering.

MOL 152

Braid Theory/Tesselations

Tesselations are another interesting mathematical concept, related to how well can we pack objects in an area, for example, squares and triangles. Another typical tesselation that happens naturally are hexagons. In certain braids where we pick bunches of hair a hexagonal pattern would appear naturally. Mathematicians are still now trying to figure out possible tesselations for different shapes, and maybe some of those could find their way onto a hairstyle!

Braid Theory spherical geometry

Our possible hairstyles would change a lot if our head was flat! Cornrows (attached to the head) need to follow certain rules of spherical geometry. For example, there is a mathematical theorem known as “hairy ball theorem” (n.a. The theorem;s name has sexual innuendo but that’s how it’s called…) that says that you can’t comb the hair on a sphere without getting a “cowlick” or a “whirl”. Or course our heads aren’t spheres full of hair, the face in particular is (usually) hairless, so we can do cornrows like this.