Learning communities, first year experience, peer mentoring, STEM, place-based, community, Native American, underrepresented, first generation


A place-based learning community called Klamath Connection was designed to improve the academic performance of freshman in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) majors at Humboldt State University, a midsize public institution in a location geographically and culturally unfamiliar to the majority of its students. The program interweaves four high impact practices demonstrated to improve the success of students in STEM: a summer immersion, freshman year seminar, modified gateway courses, and peer mentoring. Each component is linked by an interdisciplinary theme unique to our geographic location and central to the communities that live within it, the Klamath River basin. This manuscript describes the local background and needs assessment that initiated the program, explains our hypothesized model that a place-based learning community can foster the sense of belonging, skills, and habits that favor academic success, and reviews the design and implementation of our pilot program that launched in 2015 for 63 first time students entering HSU. We conclude by describing lessons learned from informal and formal assessments of participating faculty, staff, and administrative personnel that have prompted modifications to the model, which is currently being expanded to serve all entering STEM majors by 2020. Analyses describing the effects of the program on student attitudes, academic performance, and retention in the university will be reviewed in a subsequent manuscript.