How the University of Cincinnati prepares students to thrive

The first semester of college is full of excitement and promise. But, for most students, stress and anxiety are equal parts of the experience, as they adjust to increased academic rigor and a campus culture markedly different from high school.

Students in the Dr. Edward N. Prather Summer Bridge Scholars Program at the University of Cincinnati, however, get a preview of college life before their first semester even begins, with a mixture of intensive classes, personalized advising and TurningPoint all helping them on their journey.

Lora Sheppard, Instructor Educator
University of Cincinnati

The summer bridge program, targeted toward STEM majors, is offered through the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP). All LSAMP Scholars must complete the seven-week residential program, which is designed to increase retention rates by working to “bridge the gap” between high school and college with accelerated courses that serve as a preview of the actual courses they will take during their first year.

Instructor Educator Lora Sheppard, who teaches introductory physics courses, believes this is a great way to introduce these students to college classes.

“It is an accelerated program, so I can only do so much physics in that short time,” she said. “The goal is to have students feel extremely comfortable and ready to go on their first exam in the fall when they take the regular-semester physics course.”

Sheppard has been using TurningPoint from the beginning of her teaching career, and has been familiar with the technology since her own student days. For her physics classes during the school year, which are primarily lecture-based and have about 135 students, she uses anywhere polling to ask between 10 and 20 TurningPoint questions per class.

We find the benefit that [clickers] bring to the classroom to be invaluable.

“I can see right away if most of the class got a correct answer, or if there was something like a 50/50 split between options A and B, and that can open up the class for more discussion,” she said.

When she signed on for the bridge program this year, she knew that she wanted TurningPoint to be a part of her classes here, too, even with the relatively smaller size of about 40 students per session.

“[Students] really enjoy getting that immediate feedback from their peers and me,” she said. “It allows me to give them a much more personal learning experience than just lecturing for an entire class.”

That kind of personalized learning mirrors the philosophy of the bridge program itself, which also includes scheduled times for one-on-one and group advising sessions in addition to STEM-related community engagement activities.

Many of her fellow instructors are using TurningPoint as well, which means that students will have experience using the technology not only in physics, but also most of their other classes including calculus, chemistry and biology.

“We find the benefit that [clickers] bring to the classroom to be invaluable,” Sheppard explained. “We can get that immediate feedback for what students are understanding or still have misconceptions about. We can see students answering things incorrectly [and] reach out to them and have one-one-one meetings.”

Students do not receive traditional grades or credit hours for the abbreviated classes, but instead are assessed on a pass/fail basis. However, since the classes mirror the ones they will be taking for credit, students are ready to hit the ground running in the fall.

“I hope that students have a feeling of success at the end of the program. We want them to feel less intimidated by, and ready to be successful in a college classroom setting,” she said.