Students who report covering at least one major science topic in depth for at least one month in high school are more likely to earn higher grades in college science than students who reported no in-depth coverage (Schwartz, 2008). Building on this research, FirstSTEP uses a 3-week summer STEM immersion program for each cohort of rising sophomores to ensure the FirstSTEP participants have the experience of studying a science topic in-depth. MTSU STEM faculty members will apply to have the chance to develop inquiry-based, in-depth scientific experiences which will engage the students for 40 hours per week over 3 weeks. During the second summer of their FirstSTEP experience, participants are divided into groups of up to five students according to their majors and/or interests, and these groups work with STEM faculty members and upper division students on inquiry-based projects that are closely related to their majors.
Each faculty mentor in the Immersion Program may supervise a group of up to five students. Each group of five students will have a carefully selected (with the guidance of the STEM faculty advisor) upper-division STEM undergraduate assistant and a lower-division undergraduate assistant. The lower-division student will be selected by the FirstSTEP Committee from FirstSTEP students who participated as a team member the previous summer.
The students' time in the project is devoted to learning about the scientific topic chosen by the faculty member, learning skills needed to contribute to the project, and learning about inquiry methods. A significant part of most days is devoted to discovery-based learning in a collaborative, team-environment setting. Students leave the immersion experience with a deep understanding of one topic and an understanding of what discovery means in their discipline.