Assistant Professor Di Xu is dedicated to improving educational opportunities for Hispanic students. As Co-PI on a NSF grant with PI Michael Dennin, Dean of Undergraduate Education, Professor Xu co-hosted a winter 2018 conference at UCI: Pathways for Hispanics in STEM. The conference was dedicated to identifying and describing challenges facing Hispanic students who intend to pursue STEM degrees.
UCI was a timely choice to host the conference since the university had been declared a Hispanic Serving Institution in 2017, meaning that fully one-quarter of UCI undergraduates identify as Latino and that half of all students receive financial aid.
During the three-day conference, participants from HSI high schools, colleges, and universities in Southern California discussed retention issues and generated recommendations for designing a HSI program at the National Science Foundation. Featured conference speakers included the following:
Professor Xu will be sharing conference insights during the March 25-28 conference in Chicago of the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institution Educators (AHSIE). As an invited speaker, she will be participating in the session titled Evidence-based Strategies to EASE Students’ Way into STEM : the Design and Evaluation of a First-Year STEM Cohort Program to Support Underprepared Students at a Hispanic Serving Institution.
Session Description: A number of reports have called for changes to existing educational practices to increase the quality, number, and diversity of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) graduates. The need for such action is coupled to the fact that first-generation, low income, and underrepresented minority (URM) students in STEM fields exhibit disproportionately lower course performance, rates of retention, and continuation to graduate school. Drawing on the theory of learning communities and the existing literature on cohort programs, the Ayala School of Biological Sciences at the University of California Irvine created the EASE (Enhanced Academic Success Experience) initiative, a program designed to aid less-prepared Bio Sci majors. The program was launched in Fall 2016, where all Bio Sci freshmen with a math SAT score equal to or less than 600 were required to enroll in the EASE program. EASE students received supplemental instruction from a senior Bio Sci major, increased academic counseling, and opportunities to interact with faculty. Using a fuzzy regression discontinuity (RD) design, we examine the impact of EASE on a variety of student academic outcomes, including course performance in gateway biology courses and retention within the Biological Sciences major, as well as noncognitive measures, such as sense of belongingness, motivation, and attitudes regarding science. Our results indicate that program participation increased students’ academic performance and sense of belonging substantially. These results provide compelling evidence that learning communities can support at-risk populations when implemented with a high level of fidelity.