Biology's Comprehensive Student Success Program Recognized for Excellence

Biology’s Comprehensive Student Success Program Recognized for Excellence
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Acknowledges Program’s Success

Students attending Comprehensive Student Success Program
Students attending Comprehensive Student Success Program recitation sessions work on activities designed to reinforce key concepts. Related article on program.

The Comprehensive Student Success Program received a “Recognition of Excellence” from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board at their board meeting on July 24.

Organized by the University of Houston’s Department of Biology and Biochemistry, the program focuses on first-year students in introductory biology courses. The goal is to reduce the number of students dropping the courses or making a D or F.

The recognition from the Coordinating Board was based on “the exceptional work, success and efforts to sustain and scale” the Comprehensive Student Success Program.

Funded for the past two years through the Coordinating Board’s College Access Challenge Grant, the program implements various interventions to promote student success. The program includes curricular enhancement and increased opportunities for student engagement in the lecture hall, faculty development workshops and peer-led recitation sessions.

Recitations are available to all students enrolled in the courses, but attendance becomes mandatory for students scoring below a 70 on the first exam. These students are also required to attend an advising session to discuss how to succeed in college-level science courses.

“The success of this program was due to the whole-hearted support and involvement of more than half of the Biology and Biochemistry faculty,” said Dan E. Wells, director of the Comprehensive Student Success Program and dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Sixteen faculty and staff members and 16 undergraduate majors serving as facilitators made up the student success program team. An additional 24 departmental faculty, postdoctoral students and graduate students contributed to the program as field trip and lab tour leaders.

“Since fall 2012, the program in the BIOL 1361/1362 course for majors has served 2,653 students,” said Donna Pattison, co-director of the program and instructional professor of biology and biochemistry. “The program has resulted in a 14 percent department-wide increase in the number of students successfully completing the introductory course for biology majors.”

Pattison, along with instructional assistant professors Ana Medrano and Ann Cheek, presented an overview of the program to the Coordinating Board and other guests attending the board meeting.

In June, the Coordinating Board awarded an additional $20,000 to the program for development of an online toolkit to share best practices with the broader college and university community and to provide many of the materials developed for the Comprehensive Student Success Program in biology. The website will include the following:

  • Videos of active learning activities (skits, demonstrations, models) with instructions for implementation by the course instructors
  • Curriculum materials designed for peer-led team learning recitation sessions
  • Materials used in student advising – both training material for advisors and materials provided to students
  • Training materials for peer-led team learning facilitators (peer facilitators)
  • Materials used in faculty professional development activities.

Based on the success of this pilot program for entry-level biology courses, UH recently received a $1.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to expand the program to entry-level physics, chemistry and mathematics courses.

- Kathy Major, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics