Fort Lewis College
Institutional Research Capacity. The Physics and Engineering programs at FLC have grown dramatically in the past six years. That growth, coupled with the completion of the new $35M Geoscience, Physics and Engineering building make for a vibrant and active undergraduate-focused research agenda. The 60,000 sq.ft. building with associated lab space, infrastructure, and equipment make for a vast increase in research capacity at FLC. Program growth has prompted proportional expansion of research-active faculty, from five in 2010 to 13 in 2018. All tenure/tenure-track faculty maintain active research portfolios. FLC has vibrant research programs in material science, robotics, environmental engineering, applied thermal
fluids, and space and upper atmospheric physics. As FLC is an undergraduate-only institution, for STEM disciplines, we promote our connections to Ph.D.-granting institutions for our students choosing that path. Our success rate for student acceptance to graduate programs is very high, although the numbers are small. The Department leads the campus in successful research grant awards. In turn, FLC leads the State of Colorado in external research funding, among institutions its size.
PREM Pathway Starting Point. FLC, a Native American serving institution, draws students from over150 tribes from across the entire United States. The current campus student population is approximately 35% Native American, Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian. With additional underrepresented (UR) populations (primarily Hispanic) on campus, FLC on the cusp of achieving Minority Serving Institution status. While geographically remote, FLC’s Native American tuition waiver draws students from across the country. In total, FLC awards ~15 American Indian/Alaskan Native and Hispanic Physics and Engineering BSE degrees/year, and overall grants more STEM degrees to Native Americans than any other Baccalaureate-only institution in America. In all, this makes for a diverse population upon which the STEM
community can draw from in order to improve diversity in the next generation of scientists and engineers.
Challenges and Opportunities. FLC’s Department of Physics and Engineering is home to three degree programs: BS Physics, BS Engineering, and BS Computer Engineering (new Fall of 2017.) This in an intentional integration of disciplines that complement one another and nicely meshes with the interdisciplinary nature of materials science and PREM. This integration of disciplines makes for strong cohorts of students: a total population of over 273 students divide into 246 engineering majors and 27 physics majors with an additional 13 new computer engineering majors as of fall 2017. In this cohort, approximately 51% of these students belong to UR groups.
While student numbers are relatively strong, FLC’s current challenges reside in retention and
persistence of students towards degree attainment. It is also a struggle to recruit women students to improve gender diversity. FLC’s students come to the college, primarily, from rural regions that are poorly served and have underfunded school systems. This, in turn, leads to students that are not as well prepared for the rigors of physics and engineering curricula. In addition, FLC has a number of nontraditional and first-generation students trying to achieve degree completion years after high school, often while trying to maintain employment and support a family. Ultimately, these factors take a huge toll on retention and degree attainment for FLC’s student population. This presents an extraordinary challenge and opportunity for us to confront with our proposed work.
The PREM for functional nanomaterials seeks to implement a set of undergraduate student
programming elements based on best practices to engage students early and engage them often. Once a student becomes a PREM student, she or he will have access to resources that have shown to be key factors in the future success for their career in STEM. These key factors, implemented in our proposed program, include: research mentors, guided research experiences, professional development activities, a peer support network, and leadership opportunities within the peer support network. Furthermore, the focus on building
a strong community, with student leaders, positively impacts the department as a whole, not just on students directly support by our PREM program. Creating this supportive, multi-year environment, addresses the challenges of retention. When the PREM community for innovation is leveraged and extend to high school outreach student research experiences, it will positively impact FLC’s recruiting challenges. Additionally, these efforts serve to further connect FLC with the surrounding diverse community of the four corners region. This partnership allows FLC to expand the existing STROBE/FLC collaboration from just 1-2 students during the summers, to their students and institution in a long lasting way.