The initial trial run of a brand-new “Chemistry Boot Camp” was carried out in summer 2020. The experience was a teaching collaboration between Ben Janesko, associate professor, Heidi Conrad, organic laboratory coordinator, and Kayla Green, associate professor. Two student leaders, Ofuchi Akpom and Jadan Crow, also made significant contributions to the camp.
The online, six-week program was offered free of charge, and was designed for students to work at their own pace. The faculty and student leaders provided 1-2 hours of lecture and office hours each week. Enrollment was open to anyone accepted to TCU, and it was advertised through advisors. Cohorts including Community Scholars, Chancellor’s Scholars, Dean of Admissions Heath Einstein, Alpha Epsilon Delta (AED) orientation, and CSE academic orientations.
According to Green, studies have shown that students from underrepresented groups that receive a grade of C+ or higher in General Chemistry I are much more likely to stay in STEM fields than those who receive a C or below. Chemistry Boot Camp was designed for students who are considered at-risk for leaving STEM programs at TCU before the end of their first full year. Many of these students report a strong lack of confidence and weak skill sets in math skills and problem solving, which are key to being successful in general chemistry. The result is attrition from CSE courses and STEM careers, which is the problem that the boot camp seeks to resolve.
Students enrolled in the camp through the TCU Online Learning Platform (D2L) and Green, Janesko, and Conrad collectively provided content, activities, lectures, and office hours each day for six weeks. The student leaders met with the cohort weekly to discuss preparation, attitude, and organization for the first semester of university life. Additionally, these student leaders also served as advisors to the faculty. They helped to identify topics and presentation methods that needed improvement before delivery to the students. Their perspective was incredibly valuable given that they had just completed the 2019-20 General Chemistry Cycle and had the experience fresh in their minds.
Green said that the experience has better prepared students for the general chemistry course. “I’ve had biology and physics faculty stop and tell me their students have said it has helped a lot. Those in my class have also said they feel more confident and I can certainly see that,” she said.
The total enrollment this summer was 183 students. An academic performance increase of 5.7% was observed in the 20 students who completed both the pre and post boot camp assessments. Overall students improved by +30 points (out of 100) from their pre-assessment to post-assessment exam, suggesting positive growth.
“We are currently seeking out funding to continue and improve this program in the future. I don’t think there is any doubt that this was worth the effort. Our goal was to give students more confidence, and I think that this was certainly achieved,” Green said.