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Title:Math Merit Program: Academic performance and experiences of student participants in an Emerging Scholars Program
Author(s):McNeilly, Jennifer R.
Director of Research:Greene, Jennifer C
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Greene, Jennifer C
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Anderson, Carolyn; Ando, Matthew; Lubienski, Sarah
Department / Program:Educational Psychology
Discipline:Educational Psychology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
STEM majors
Emerging Scholars Program
Abstract:The Emerging Scholars Program model, first proposed and disseminated by Uri Treisman in the 1970s, provided the basis for higher education programs in mathematics departments at many institutions. This thesis presents work done within the context of one such ESP model program that has been running successfully for over 30 years at a large research intensive university - the Math Merit Program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In light of the expansion of the program’s target populations and the overall growth in the program in the last decade, this study sought to investigate the academic performance and experiences of program participants in recent years (2013-2018) through a two-phase, sequential mixed- methods (QUAN → QUAL) study. Results of Phase I of the study indicated that the target populations of underrepresented racial or ethnic minority students and rural students participated slightly more in the Math Merit Program than other target populations during these years. In general, students who started in the Math Merit Program with Preparation for Calculus or Calculus I in their first semester earned higher grades in that course than similar students who were invited but chose not to participate. This was especially true for underrepresented racial or ethnic minority students and rural students. Math Merit participation was only associated with higher overall degree attainment for participants who started in the Calculus I course. However, graduates who participated in Math Merit earned a higher percentage of STEM degrees than non-participants across all three starting courses. Additionally, participating in Math Merit for more than one semester resulted in a higher graduation rate and higher percentage of STEM degrees earned by graduates than only participating in Math Merit for one semester. Phase II of the study revealed that recent Math Merit participants described a wide variety of academic benefits they experienced due to the program. Nearly all of the students directly attributed their strong academic performance in math courses (and other courses in some cases) to their participation in Math Merit. Furthermore, the descriptions provided by these recent participants suggest a possible process through which those academic benefits occurred: the structural aspects of the program created opportunities for impactful relationships to form which then worked together to create meaningful in-class learning experiences. The role of the Math Merit teaching assistant emerged as an important component throughout this process. Finally, these interview participants also described multiple long-term learning habits that participation in Math Merit nurtured. This study adds to the literature on Treisman’s Emerging Scholars Program model in that it reinforces previous findings that participation in the program is associated with higher academic performance for some participants. Additionally, it contributes to our understanding of the ways students experience programs based on this model and provides more specific insight into how academic benefits occur for some program participants.
Issue Date:2021-12-01
Rights Information:Copyright 2021 Jennifer R. McNeilly
Date Available in IDEALS:2022-04-29
Date Deposited:2021-12

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