Implementing a Summer STEM Bridge Program

The W. M. Keck Science Department is the interdisciplinary home to the biology, chemistry, environmental science, and physics faculty for Claremont McKenna, Pitzer, and Scripps Colleges (3C). The department, located at the intersection of the 3C campuses, is administered cooperatively. Keck Science offers more than a dozen discrete majors and provides comprehensive, interdisciplinary instruction in small-class settings and numerous opportunities for students to conduct research. Because of increased interest in science as a major among 3C students, departmental enrollments have grown appreciably during the past ten years. Increased student engagement has led the 3C presidents to examine the long-term needs of the department; in turn, the department has worked to develop numerous initiatives to promote student success.

Establish Vision

In 2011, the five undergraduate Claremont Colleges (5C), which include Pomona and Harvey Mudd in addition to Claremont McKenna (CMC), Pitzer, and Scripps, had the opportunity to develop a shared STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) retention program with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). The principal goal of the HHMI award is to prepare undergraduates to become leaders in science research and medicine. When considering the exceptional resources the Claremont consortium can offer, community building was identified as a key component to retaining STEM majors. Also central to the program is enhanced support of a diverse range of students—including those from groups traditionally underrepresented in science—through summer bridge programs.

Examine Landscape and Conduct Capacity Analysis

When developing the Summer Science Immersion Program (SScIP), the Keck Science Department drew on its own experience with STEM recruitment and retention and also examined other campus models. A number of successful science immersion programs have been implemented throughout the country, and a particular inspiration to the department was the Louisiana State University (LSU) Biology Intensive Orientation for Students (BIOS) program. This program, which focuses on the expectations of college-level biology courses and the skills required for academic success, has been thoroughly evaluated and found to be effective in increasing the success of students in LSU’s biology curriculum and their retention in the major.

To further understand the needs of Keck students, the department conducted a retention study in 2011 on every matriculating student at all three of the department’s sponsor colleges during the years 2005–10. Demographic, financial aid, test score, and academic data were collected for 5,363 students, and a database of more than 200,000 cells was created. The study revealed that 19 percent of students on need-based financial aid major in a science field, compared with 15 percent of students not on aid. The study also found that 13 percent of Caucasian, African-American, and Hispanic/Latino students major in a science, as do 23 percent of Asian and Asian American students. Significantly, the study found that the math SAT is an effective predictor of success in the department’s gateway course in introductory chemistry (16.8 percent of the variance in grade in the first semester, 19.6 percent in the second) but far less so in introductory biology.

Identify and Analyze Challenges and Opportunities

Because the retention study suggested that there was no one group of students uniquely at risk, the department’s SScIP has been broadly targeted to first-generation students; to students from underrepresented groups in science, including women; and to students who attended underresourced high schools.

Choose Strategies

In August 2013, Keck Science launched the one-week SScIP session for incoming, first-year 3C students; the program was again run in August 2014. The theme of the SScIP curriculum was the Chemistry of Life, and a philosophy of acculturation—not remediation—was employed to introduce the participants to the excitement of science and to the expectations and demands of college-level science coursework. Departmental faculty served as instructors for the program, and returning students as peer mentors.

Begin Implementation

In both summer 2013 and 2014, the SScIP students participated in interactive seminars on core science topics in biochemistry, molecular biology, and astronomy. A full day was devoted to issues faced by underrepresented groups in science, and as a part of this module, the students and faculty traveled to California State University–Los Angeles to meet with Patrick Sharp, chair of the Department of Liberal Studies and an expert on race and gender in science and science fiction. To introduce the students to the department’s teaching laboratories, the students performed two hands-on experiments from the introductory chemistry curriculum. A module on the search for life on exoplanets included a visit to the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. The week culminated with an analysis of the genome and proteome of the protozoan Tetrahymena thermophila, and the students were invited to contribute their results to an international genomic database (

During the planning process, the department was fully aware that the immersion program would provide many students with their first experience living away from home and that asking these students to arrive one week early for the SScIP could mean sacrificing time with family, time away from paid employment, or both. Consequently, on the first evening of the program, the department hosted a welcoming dinner for all of the participating students and their families. The department also engaged other stakeholders, including prospective and current students, parents, and alumni. In addition, the creation of the SScIP highlighted to the 3C deans, presidents, and boards of trustees the department’s commitment to STEM student success. The 3C offices of public communication were provided links to a Keck Science publicity video ( that included scenes from the SScIP and to an online article ( that included student interviews and detailed descriptions of the curriculum and activities.

Measure Results

Assessment of both the summer 2013 and 2014 SScIP cohorts is being conducted by CMC’s director of academic planning, Dianna Graves. Several times each semester, reports that provide course enrollment data, grades in both science and nonscience courses, and the current declared major, if any, for each SScIP student are being generated through the 5C enrollment management system. Outcomes measured to date are positive—for example, in the first year of college for the 2013 SScIP students, the thirty-eight participants collectively enrolled in 305 full-credit academic courses. Just nine courses were dropped, a completion rate of 97 percent. The completion rate in STEM courses was also impressive, 96 percent overall in the first year of college.


The Keck Science Department believes that the Summer Science Immersion Program has been an extremely important addition to its curriculum, and the website and video noted above were created to help describe the program to prospective students and to the larger community. Keys to the success of the program have been a clear articulation of the department’s commitment to the success of all of its students, the assessment of outcomes, and the engagement of multiple stakeholders.

Bidushi Bhattacharya, director of sponsored research and science liaison, W. M. Keck Science Department, Claremont McKenna, Pitzer, and Scripps Colleges: David E. Hansen, Weinberg Family Dean of Science and professor of chemistry, W. M. Keck Science Department, Claremont McKenna, Pitzer, and Scripps Colleges

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