We noticed that there were not a ton of these students crossing the stage for Honors Convocation, so winning awards, being our top graduates in something, so how do we start to change that? Well, we can look at our pipeline and say that we don’t address it in their senior year, but you address it as they are coming in the door.
– Professor Chawne Kimber
Excellence in teaching at Lafayette extends beyond traditional academic programs of study. Today we focus on the Summer Program to Advance Leadership in STEM (SPAL) which continues to positively impact high-achieving female, underrepresented, first-generation, low-income, and geographically diverse Lafayette students. In general, transition programs such as SPAL can validate the experiences of underserved groups by providing reassurance, allowing risk-taking without penalty, and creating an environment where vulnerability is acceptable in addition to second chances (Hallet et al., 2019).
Professors Chawne Kimber and Sharon Jones started SPAL in 2008 to address a fundamental challenge in undergraduate STEM education: the persistence of inequities. Dr. Kimber describes how they conceived that SPAL would:
Help students decide whether STEM was for them…they either suffer through that first year with a little support or they choose to exit STEM early so that suffering doesn’t occur. So, it’s both a positive for students to stay or leave STEM…[T]hey are given all that support structure and we humanize the people behind it. They learn that a dean is not someone to be afraid of, but someone who eats lunch just like they do, and then also to give them an opportunity to imagine themselves in the workplace as either a scientist or an engineer…
The program runs for six weeks between the months of July and August, and approximately ten students participate each summer. Students take two courses for credit, English 100 (Introduction to Academic Writing) and Math 161 (Calculus I), in addition to modules in various STEM disciplines such as engineering, geology, and neuroscience. Faculty serve as informal mentors, and lunchtime conversations include a number of key individuals on campus such as deans, career services staff, and professors in non-STEM disciplines. Professor Josh Smith plays an integral role in the day-to-day operations of SPAL. With regards to the lunchtime presenters, he indicates:
While each is invited to speak on a particular topic, I ask that the guests first discuss their background, which for many has been a rather nonlinear pathway to their current position at Lafayette. I want the SPALers to appreciate that they, too, can face challenges, have doubts, change their majors, perhaps even more than once, and still have an amazing academic experience in college and career afterwards.
SPALers also have the opportunity to visit a few sites to observe engineers and scientists in action, and some fun by visiting local area attractions such as Dorney Park and the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival.
Professor Kimber describes the outcomes of this program as quite remarkable. SPALers persist in STEM and participate in Excel, honors and thesis projects at higher rates, plus have higher GPAs upon graduating. Two Lafayette students further describe the benefits of participating in SPAL:
SPAL gave me the tools I needed to transition to college life. I became familiar with the expectations of a college course and became comfortable on a new campus. I also formed new relationships with other Lafayette students and professors.” -Angie Orellana ‘20
Without a doubt, deciding to take part of SPAL has been one of the best decisions I have made. It was not only an extremely helpful transition from high school to college, but it definitely made me more confident for what was to come during my journey at Lafayette. I met other ‘SPALers,’ who I now consider my best friends, built relationships with professors in different departments, got to know the resources offered at Lafayette, and most importantly who I could reach out to regarding whatever concern I might encounter while on campus. I owe a lot to the summer spent at SPAL, and I will forever be grateful for such an experience. I strongly believe it is an amazing opportunity and happy to see it continued. -Rachel Raudales ‘21
The Summer Program to Advance Academic Leadership in STEM is one of several programs that equips our Lafayette students with keys to success.
For More Info
Hallett, R. E., Reason, R. D., Toccoli, J., Kitchen, J. A., & Perez, R. J. (2019). The process of academic validation within a comprehensive college transition program. American Behavioral Scientist. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764219869419