More students at the University of Louisville who aspire to careers in science and health will have support for success in key classes thanks to a $2.4 million gift from the James Graham Brown Foundation. The new grant will fund in-class peer support to improve student performance in math and science courses needed to pursue degree programs in science, technology, engineering, math and health (STEM+H).

The grant will help UofL increase early student success in five College of Arts & Sciences courses in math, biology and chemistry – all required for many STEM+H degree programs – that traditionally have high rates of grade D, failure and withdrawal (DFW). Low grades or failing these courses can lead students to abandon the STEM+H fields, take longer to graduate or leave UofL altogether.

“UofL is committed to recruiting, retaining and launching graduates prepared to serve the commonwealth’s STEM+H workforce needs in information systems, engineering, nursing, medicine and other fields,” said UofL President Neeli Bendapudi. “Many thanks to the James Graham Brown Foundation for this funding to help the university continue to serve the community’s needs.”

“Student success is a priority for our foundation because we believe that equitable educational attainment will increase economic and social mobility for Kentuckians,” said Mason B. Rummel, president and chief executive of the James Graham Brown Foundation. “We are supporting this initiative with the University of Louisville because undergraduate learning assistant programs have shown the potential to dramatically improve academic performance.”

The effort builds on student-success programs already in place at UofL through the Resources for Academic Achievement (REACH) unit. It will place advanced undergraduate, peer-level structured learning assistants (SLAs) within the classrooms of the five College of Arts & Sciences courses in math, biology and chemistry. The SLAs will work with instructors to engage small groups of students within the classrooms to help them better understand the material and prepare for assignments.

REACH director Geoff Bailey said the SLAs will help students break down concepts and apply information using critical thinking exercises.

“If we can infuse student leaders in these classes to a ratio of about 1 for every 25 students who need assistance, we have an opportunity to move the needle in ways that we haven’t been able to do previously,” Bailey said. “This enables us to take it to a whole other level just because of the sheer numbers.”

The JGBF grant will train and support the SLAs from any undergraduate major with hourly wages and tuition stipends. Based on projected enrollment, Bailey expects to hire 59 students for these positions to support classes beginning in the Spring 2022 semester. Students hired for the program must have earned an A or B in the class they will assist, have good communication skills and be approved by a faculty member for this role. The SLAs also will benefit from participation as peer mentors, gaining resume-building experience in small-group leadership by helping early college students develop classroom success skills.