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Leveraging Engagement and Vision to Encourage Retention in STEM (LEVERS) is a five-year, $1.5 million project funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. HHMI is a science philanthropy whose mission is to advance biomedical research and science education for the benefit of humanity. HHMI empowers exceptional scientists and students to pursue fundamental questions about living systems. The award was given to Michigan State University (MSU) to improve introductory courses that serve as gateways to continued studies in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In doing so, faculty hope to change the institutional culture around the teaching of STEM, raise student engagement, and increase the number of students graduating with STEM degrees. 

Often, students become disenchanted by typical gateway courses and leave STEM before they can do real scientific practices. Students have stated that introductory courses are passive, the information is delivered without connections or contextualization, and the curricular designs and assessment methods aren’t aligned with their strengths. They also report that learning environments are unwelcoming and competitive. All of these sources of dissatisfaction greatly impact students’ decisions to stay in or leave STEM programs.

LEVERS is about increasing the persistence and success of these undergraduate science students, especially those from traditionally underrepresented groups. Researchers believe that doing so will strengthen STEM education and research, provide equity in access to and representation in STEM fields, and address emerging workforce needs associated with demographic shifts. 

Students who participate in the reformed STEM gateway courses are expected to achieve the following:

  • Develop foundational understanding of disciplinary core ideas

  • Recognize connections across disciplinary boundaries

  • Develop competency-based science practices

  • Participate in high-impact, high-engagement activities during the gateway experience

  • Improve science self-efficacy and use of self-regulated learning strategies

  • Find the STEM gateway educational experience to be satisfying and develop a commitment to the institution

  • Persist and succeed in the STEM gateway courses

  • Attain a STEM degree

LEVERS involves personnel from across MSU, including faculty from the College of Natural Science, College of Engineering, College of Education and Lyman Briggs College and CREATE for STEM.  Collaborators also include faculty associated with BEACON Center for Study of Evolution in Action.