After many interviews with sets of both advisors and students from numerous cohorts as well as scouring around for how various programs similar to Harvard Emerging Scholars Program operate, I've reached the following blueprint for action:
While it seems like it's targeting only a small fraction of the aspects we can improve about ESP, I believe that targeting one or two aspects of the program will help with gathering more accurate data to how effective each change is, as well as preventing overworked staff, which students who I have interviewed have felt like the staff is already limited, or stretched thin by their other responsibilities.
To increase STEM persistence, ESP was developed on the four following key activities:
1. Active learning in the classroom,
2. Early research experiences,
3. High-quality academic advising and mentoring, and
4. A responsive social support system
Expanding Summer OpportunitiesStudying abroad may not be the best option for all ESP students. This would help students who may have other goals in mind like beginning or advancing their research skills. ESP could perhaps partner with Harvard Summer Residential Research Programs, like PRISE, which stands for Program for Research in Science and Engineering or maybe other Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) programs.
Another possible avenue worth exploring would be having pathways for students to pursue internships relating to their field of interest, like if a student is interested in pursuing environmental sciences and engineering, then they could do field work in Harvard Forest, for example.
By offering one or two more options and being flexible to student's goals, ESP would still be building cohort community since students from the cohort will still be with one another in one of the options while also strengthening their goal of offering individualized advising and support.
Increasing Structured Support after the First YearMany of the students interviewed have asked for more ways to get involved in ESP after their first year. For first-year ESP students, they are required to attend class twice a week, with a built-in Friday lunch to support cohort building and meeting various faculty on campus. Faculty Fridays was something an upperclassman said that they would like to be invited to; otherwise the four or so invites to ESP lunches or events throughout the year make it difficult to feel the sense of community first-year ESP students used to feel. One student remarked, "When was the last time we were even together?", and at the point of the interview, it was around a semester and a half that most of the second cohort had met up.
Structured support can also be created by offering a 1-credit course that upperclassmen have the option to take for four out of their eight remaining semesters in order to earn an "extra" 4-credit course. During the time of the course, ESP upperclassmen could have the chance to develop their mentorship and leadership abilities by creating curriculum and learning seminars, which promotes active learning in the classroom. By increasing interaction and contact within different cohorts, students will be able to organically establish their social support system. Peer mentorship is useful for first-year students since talking to their peers is more comfortable than talking to someone who may be more removed from their college undergraduate experience.