To Include is To Excel: Strengthening diversity in STEM majors through support in Math 119
In the first three years of the To Include is To Excel initiative, St. Olaf College faculty, staff members, and students have developed more than 50 grant-funded projects to support inclusive teaching and learning. We’re highlighting these projects in this series — and we hope that hearing about this work in the words of fellow faculty and staff members will inspire you to think about how you can be part of creating a more inclusive and equitable campus community.
At St. Olaf College, Math 119: Calculus with Review is a gateway course that many students need in order to pursue further study in mathematics, chemistry, physics, engineering, pre-med, and pre-health careers.
Typically, around 50 percent of those enrolled in the course are low-income, first-generation, or underrepresented students eligible for services through the college’s TRIO Programs.
A group of St. Olaf faculty and staff members came together around the idea that one way the college can support diversity in the STEM fields is to ensure that students in Math 119 have the access to resources and support that they need to be successful. With the support of a To Include is To Excel grant, this group — Academic Enrichment Specialist Nayeli Trujillo, Assistant Director of TRIO Student Support Services Wendy Gonzalez, Assistant Professor of Mathematics David Walmsley, Associate Professor of Mathematics Adam Berliner, and Professor of Mathematics Kristina Garrett — re-imagined Math 119 with an emphasis on collaborative and intentional relationships between students, professors, and Academic Assistants. The Academic Assistants consisted of St. Olaf students who had successfully completed Calculus 1 and 2 and were hired and trained to support students in Math 119.
The goal of this intensive academic support for students in Math 119 is to ensure high-impact engagement from students and greater success. Along the way, project leaders adjusted their plans to make the course even more collaborative and better support student needs.
They share what they learned in developing this To Include is To Excel project and what they hope the community takes away from it:
What led you to develop this project?
We proposed the initiative to mainly support students enrolled in Math 119. The successful completion of a calculus course in college is required for entry into most STEM careers. At St. Olaf, Math 119: Calculus with Review and Math 120: Calculus I are the gateway courses into majors such as mathematics, chemistry, physics, pre-med, and pre-health careers. Math 119 is also required in social science majors such as economics. We also wanted to shift students’ mentality about the subject of mathematics and help them build confidence in their study habits.
What did you learn — about yourself, your students, your colleagues, the St. Olaf community — as you began working on this project?
The project was funded for two years. At the start of year one, we had one model in mind that allowed for more one-on-one support. However, after looking at student feedback, we changed the model to be more collaborative, as it better fit student needs. We learned that when students, faculty, and staff collaborate and listen to each other, the outcome can be great. Each one plays a vital role in making a project successful.
What do you hope students and other members of the St. Olaf community take away from this work?
Collaboration is essential for students. They learn best from one another, so allowing students to collaborate in and outside of the classroom — not just in one type of course but throughout all courses — is very important. Everyone should continue to emphasize that seeking support can only strengthen students’ understanding of a subject. Students should take advantage of all the resources that are available to them in each of their courses.
How can the St. Olaf community support your project?
It is important that we continue to support all students, especially those for whom calculus has traditionally been a barrier for careers in STEM. We must continue to remove the stigma that support is remediation, and we must create a culture where students know what support they can receive and how to get it. We can also admire the student workers who take on mentoring roles, like Supplemental Instruction (SI) leaders or Academic Assistants (which were particular to this project).
It is important that we continue to support all students, especially those for whom calculus has traditionally been a barrier for careers in STEM. We must continue to remove the stigma that support is remediation, and we must create a culture where students know what support they can receive and how to get it.
Where does your work go from here?
We must continue to support every student in Math 119 and let them know that they belong and can thrive. We’ve learned that collaboration is a key element of student success, and this should shape both the support structure for students at the college as well as the structure of our classroom.