Thursday, August 09, 2012

[025] FirstSTEP Summer Bridge Raises Bar for 38 MTSU Freshman

For release:  Aug. 2, 2012

News and Media Relations contact: Randy Weiler, 615-898-5616 or
FirstSTEP Summer Bridge contacts: Elaine Bouldin Tenpenny, 615-898-2865 or

Dr. Ginger Holmes Rowell, 615-898-5540 or
Dr. Tom Cheatham, 615-494-8738 or

FirstSTEP Summer Bridge raises bar for 38 MTSU freshmen

 MURFREESBORO — MTSU entering freshman Emily Slayton solved 311 precalculus problems in nine days’ time during the recent two-week MTSU FirstSTEP Summer Bridge program.

 “That’s absolutely amazing,” said Dr. Tom Cheatham, former College of Basic and Applied Sciences dean, during a July 27 luncheon to recognize Slayton and 37 other STEM majors from all across Tennessee for completing the 10-day journey to bolster their mathematics knowledge.

Slayton, a pre-med major from Camden, Tenn., and a 2012 Camden High School graduate, admitted that completing so many problems — an average of 34.5 a day — wasn’t easy.

“It was pretty tough and a lot of hard work,” Slayton said. “They were prerequisites we need for precalculus. It was time-consuming, but I had a good calculus teacher my senior year.”

FirstSTEP is a five-year, $2 million grant funded by the National Science Foundation. It is an enrichment program that provides financial and academic support for students majoring in biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering technology, geosciences, mathematics and physics and astronomy. It also helps students improve their college-life skills and learn about research and careers in science, technology, engineering and math — the STEM fields.

“FirstSTEP addresses their gaps in math,” said Cheatham, who led the grant proposal development and will remain lead administrator, as he becomes the Tennessee Mathematics, Science and Technology Education Center director.

Incoming freshmen STEM majors are invited to join FirstSTEP based on having an ACT math subscore between 19 and 23 inclusive, Cheatham said.

“These students are not required to take prescribed math courses, but they have some gaps in their mathematics development that need to be addressed to succeed as a STEM major,” he said.

“We developed an individualized study plan based on their areas of where they are deficient,” co-lead administrator Dr. Ginger Holmes Rowell said.

The students, some of whom stay in campus residence halls, hear lectures from co-lead administrator Dr. Chris Stephens and others, and participate in hands-on activities led by assistant professor of University Studies Dr. Joan Raines. They also do homework problems.

Along with Slayton, Kenneth Cobble also received an award, a book titled “Precalculus: A Unit Circle Approach,” from FirstSTEP Summer Bridge co-administrator and math associate professor Elaine Bouldin Tenpenny.

“It’s a wonderful program,” said Cobble, a physics major and a 2011 Smyrna High School graduate, who chose to join the Marine Corps reserves in his first year after graduation. “It helped with my math scores and refreshing my high-school knowledge and retention.”

“It gives us a feel for knowledge,” Slayton added about the program. “You get to meet a lot of new people before you start college, and the student workers and teachers are all smart.”

Slayton said she wants to be a physician. Attending FirstSTEP with friend Sarah Ragsdale of Camden and the other 36 students allowed her to “get a feel for campus and a feel for freedom (being away from home). It teaches you to get to know people more and connect with people. I knew one person (Ragsdale), and now I’ve met a lot more people.”

MTSU faculty and staff and nine MTSU students from sophomores to graduate students assisted the fall 2012 freshmen, Rowell said.

Final data on this group is not yet complete, but Cheatham and Rowell anticipate success.

“The data gathered has been encouraging so far, in that we’re making a difference,” Cheatham said.

“They all improved on their posttest,” Rowell said. “They came a very long way in two weeks. They now have a new study plan that tells them what to do for the next two weeks before school starts.”

In addition to Rowell, Tenpenny, Raines and Stephens, FirstSTEP Summer Bridge staff included co-administrator and math chair Dr. Don Nelson; and coordinators Brad Rudnik and Teresa Walls.

Grad students Jennifer Yantz, Brittany Smith, Amenah Kassaee and Clint Holman guided the freshmen through homework problems. Nine student workers also assisted.

A $1.7 million National Science Foundation grant originally funded the program then called STEPMT in 2004.



FirstSTEP.jpg photo caption

Emily Slayton, left, and Kenneth Cobble, right, received “Precalculus: A Unit Circle Approach” from FirstSTEP Summer Bridge director Elaine Bouldin Tenpenny as an award for the work they accomplished in the 2012 program for selected incoming freshmen STEM majors wanting to improve their math knowledge. (MTSU photo by News and Media Relations)

Cheatham.jpg photo caption

Dr. Tom Cheatham speaks to participants during the 2012 FirstSTEP Summer Bridge Program lunch and awards event. After serving as College of Basic and Applied Sciences’ dean for 11 years, Cheatham now is Tennessee Mathematics Science and Technology Education Center director.  (MTSU photo by News and Media Relations)

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