Our S-STEM Track 1-Institutional Capacity Building project proposes to establish the Multi-contextual Applications for eXcellence in Undergraduate STEM (MAXUS) program at Grand Canyon University (GCU), located in Phoenix, Arizona. GCU is a trusted community leader among local school districts that serve high-potential, low-income students. With an evident need for engineering graduates in the US, and the growing reliance on the importation of talent from other areas of the world, the national output of engineering graduates demands an increase. However, an undergraduate engineering program with curriculum based on individual achievement and success acquired through traditional lectures, self-study, and rigid assessment can be a significant challenge for students from high-context cultures. Our MAXUS Scholars will be recruited from a student population of mainly first-generation, Pell-eligible, academically talented youth who originate from the highly diverse community where GCU is deeply embedded. Our MAXUS program aims to increase the number of these undergraduates who successfully complete their engineering degree which, in turn, will increase the likelihood of scholar placement into high-paying STEM careers and enable their social mobility. Our S-STEM program objectives include recruiting and enrolling 12 low-income, academically talented students into GCU’s MAXUS program in GCU’s CSET Engineering programs. By alleviating a large portion of the financial pressure on many of our engineering students while providing high-context, community-oriented learning support, we aim to retain at least 90% of scholarship recipients after their first year, and graduate at least 80% of recipients with Engineering degrees. MAXUS will integrate specialized programming, like the HomeRoom model, to support their acclimation to the demands of college life and engineering requirements, and faculty mentor professional development in multi-contextuality and diversity, while documenting the learning from these interventions.
The goal of our program is to generate new knowledge about students with diverse backgrounds and how they develop the identity of an engineer beyond just acquiring the technical information needed to be one. We will determine if innovations, such as the HomeRoom, one-on-one tutoring, learning how to build a network of peers and supporters for both personal and professional development, have a measurable effect on developing these identities and our ability to retain and graduate low-income, diverse engineering students. By establishing and cultivating a familiar “home away from home”, the concept of our HomeRoom will resonate with our MAXUS Scholars. Bolstered with new supports—faculty mentors, peer mentors, workshops and training for a select group of Scholars—our MAXUS Program will be measured for its impact and effectiveness through evaluation reports, observations captured by mentors, feedback from Scholars (e.g., surveys), and changes in learning outcomes and behaviors reported by faculty and Institutional Research. Collectively, these findings will contribute to a continuous capture of knowledge on how the Scholars respond to a multi-contextually-focused mentoring plan.
The MAXUS program will lay a foundation to build institutional capacity, diversity and multi-contextual competence beyond Engineering. At a local level, GCU will integrate high-context mentoring of low-income, academically talented students so that we can add to the cadre of US-trained engineers and their social advancement. The multi-contextual model that we are applying and mentor training can be broadly translated beyond a department or college and aligned with other high-context student populations and learning communities. We see this as an opportunity to adapt new knowledge collected from this program to GCU’s teaching culture campus-wide and across the larger STEM community through dissemination outlets, STEM-related publications and nationally recognized STEM conferences. GCU will have an opportunity to expand its institutional capacity and become an active contributor of our next-generation of engineers in the Southwest and the US.