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Undergraduate Assistants Help Freshmen Transition to Life as STEMCats

(Nov. 20, 2014) — As University of Kentucky freshmen settle into life as college students, a new resource on campus has been helping them adjust to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs, known for difficult coursework. Undergraduate instructional assistants (UIAs) within one of the university's newest Living Learning ProgramsSTEMCats, use their past experiences to mentor incoming UK students.

The College of Arts and Sciences recently produced a podcast about the STEMCats community, featuring many STEMCats UIAs explaining what they enjoy about the program and their connections with younger STEM students.

"You get to help them succeed academically, socially, personally and just as a student, help them move to where they want to be," said one UIA in the podcast.

STEMCats undergraduate instructional assistants. Listen to what more UIAs had to say about STEMCats here.

STEMCats provides freshmen with many unique opportunities, including participation in research at the beginning of their college career, and connections with peers, upperclassmen and professors before classes ever begin.

Recognizing the value of peers as role models and resources, STEMCats utilizes sophomore, junior and senior STEM majors as UIAs. UIAs are not strictly tutors, but serve as a bridge between professors and students, meeting with students once or twice a week, and mentoring them based on their own experiences in similar majors.

STEMCats, led by Department of Biology Chair Vincent Cassone, began this semester after UK was awarded a $1.9 million grant by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in June. The HHMI grant, also led by Cassone as the principal investigator, was awarded to improve retention of students in the STEM disciplines. Launching as a pre-fall freshman academic, research and professional-development residential program, STEMCats welcomed UK and Bluegrass Community and Technical College students to campus a week before the official opening of the university, and they attended a special orientation program.

In the fall of 2015, STEMCats will move into its permanent home in Woodland Glen IV, a new residence hall located on south campus, and will foster even more engagement within its community.

One UIA featured in the College of Arts and Sciences' podcast spoke about what he expected STEMCats students to gain from living in the same residence hall.  

"Aside from making great friends that are going to probably last all through college, you're going to get a really nice help with classes because, I mean, chances are if you're struggling through bio (biology) or MA 113, the person right down the hall from you is probably stuck on the same problem, and that's a big benefit."

STEMCats is supported by the College of Arts & Sciences' departments of biologychemistryearth and environmental sciencesmathematicsphysics and astronomypsychology and statistics; the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences; the Department of Physiology; the Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences; and Bluegrass Community and Technical College's Division of Natural Sciences.