Agnes Scott Receives Grant to Improve Persistence and Success in Math and Science

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Agnes Scott College will share a $200,000, two-year grant with Davidson College aimed at improving academic support for students interested in math or science. The grant was awarded by The Teagle Foundation.

“The goal is to improve the overall persistence and success of students interested in majoring in math and science,” said James Diedrick, associate dean of the college at Agnes Scott. “Agnes Scott is not alone in having students fall away from math and science in their second and third years, and we’re trying out interventions that we think could improve their persistence. It’s like giving students academic vitamins that will help improve health and endurance in their course work.”

First-generation college students, in particular, often face challenges in adjusting to a college-level math and science curriculum.

“Davidson is becoming a more diverse institution, and as a result, we are going to have a larger population of students who are the first in their family to go to college,” said Verna Case, associate dean of teaching, learning and research at Davidson. “These students often don’t have family experience to guide them through the first year at college. The Teagle grant will enable us to assess the needs of, and provide assistance for, our first-generation students. We’re excited to work with Agnes Scott on this grant to help ensure that these students get the early support they need to achieve their academic goals.”

The grant will be used by faculty members at both institutions to pilot modifications to their courses and assess what specific interventions improve student learning, Diedrick said. Faculty will try these interventions in gateway courses—courses usually taken by students expressing interest in a career involving math and science disciplines.

These changes will be made to one section of a multiple-section course, such as the first section of a gateway biology course, but not the second and third sections of the same course, he said. This allows faculty to better track whether students respond differently from section to section and from semester to semester.

Possible strategies include an extra hour per week with a tutor, discipline-focused study groups and workshops on improving reading comprehension, note-making and test-taking. For instance, Jim Wiseman, an associate professor of mathematics at Agnes Scott, said he plans to use the Teagle funds to design structured group workshops, as well as individual online tutorials for students in his calculus courses.

The Teagle Foundation provides leadership for liberal education, mobilizing the intellectual and financial resources that are necessary if today's students are to have access to a challenging and transformative liberal education. The foundation's commitment to such education includes its grant making to institutions of higher education across the country, its long-established scholarship program for the children of employees of ExxonMobil and its work helping economically disadvantaged young people in New York City—where the foundation is based—gain admission to college and succeed once there.

This is the second Teagle Foundation grant Agnes Scott has received in the past five years. From 2006 to 2009 Agnes Scott led a three-year collaborative project with three other southeastern institutions—Converse College, Wofford College and the University of North Carolina-Asheville—to assess the “value added” impact of integrative learning experiences on students' intellectual growth. More information about this project and its key outcomes can be found at

Agnes Scott College educates women to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times. Students are drawn to Agnes Scott by its excellent academic reputation, exceptional faculty and metropolitan Atlanta location—offering myriad social, cultural and experiential learning opportunities. This highly selective liberal arts college is known for its diverse and dynamic intellectual community. Through SUMMIT, it provides every student, regardless of major, with an individualized course of study and co-curricular experiences that develop leadership abilities and understanding of complex global dynamics.