Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Chemistry/Chemistry Education Research

First Advisor

Hannah Sevian

Second Advisor

Jason Evans

Third Advisor

Mariam Ismail


Many colleges and universities take a “weeding out the weak” approach to teaching STEM, despite substantial literature that emphasizes the values and effectiveness of various other approaches. Introductory, foundational, STEM courses which are often taken by students during their first and second years of college, have been shown to hinder students from completing STEM degrees and persisting in STEM-related fields. STEM fields are linked to individual and national economic prosperity, innovation, and esteem. Introductory courses preventing students from persisting in STEM have been characterized as “barrier” or “gatekeeper” courses. First-semester General Chemistry (GC1) functions as a gatekeeper to STEM degrees, disproportionally impacting systemically excluded students. The literature highlights that “no institution is immune to this vexing problem” and that “solving the gateway course problem may be one of the grand challenges facing undergraduate STEM education.” Many studies have focused on addressing students’ deficits to mitigate this problem. However, extensive evidence demonstrates that deficit remediation strategies do not sustain benefits. Asset-based approaches, uncommon in higher education, offer an alternative by acknowledging and leveraging students’ strengths.

This dissertation investigates an asset-based approach to supporting student success in GC1. In particular, the studies presented focus on the design and implementation of a supplemental chemistry course that students take during the same semester they are enrolled in GC1. Using an anti-deficit, cultural wealth-oriented approach, this dissertation has three aims: (1) to demonstrate a theoretically-driven asset-based approach to designing a service intervention that benefits DFW-risk students who are enrolled in GC1, (2) to identify the critical features of the course’s design and the mechanisms for how the features benefit students, and (3) to present students’ experiences in the course through counternarratives that dispel the dominant paradigm of deficit-based rationales while also illumining how surrounding support structures at the university embed or impede beneficial outcomes for students. Asset-based approaches and theories, and their values in developing STEM courses are presented, along with how these approaches were used to design the asset-based supplemental chemistry course. Analysis of interviews with supplemental-chemistry students, using conjecture mapping to examine students’ experiences navigating success in GC1, allowed for extracting salient features of the course’s design. Elements of the supplemental course design that were most supportive of student success and that further leveraged students’ assets included panels of advanced peers, nurturing attitudes of instructors, and multimodal strategies for problem solving. Additionally, interviews with GC1 instructors, faculty and professional advisors, and care counselors were conducted and analyzed to generate a more holistic picture. Examination of overlaps between the student and advisor findings highlighted the need for culturally relevant practices that value students’ assets. Implications for research and teaching are discussed.


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