A Chemistry Based Service-Learning Course in New Orleans: Increasing Student Interest and Self-Efficacy in STEM

An important problem in STEM education is the low student retention rate. Non-traditional science courses that utilize more active-participation and learning are attractive as tools to increase student persistence and interest in STEM. Herein is described the content and implementation of a chemistry-based service-learning course that was offered in Spring 2019. The course features a well-rounded curriculum and diverse activities. The enrolled undergraduate students were not only taught chemistry concepts (general chemistry and supramolecular chemistry) but were also asked to present the chemical concepts using attention-grabbing demonstrations to public-school students in the New Orleans area. In addition, the course covered multiple non-science topics, including the pedagogy of service learning, background on the New Orleans public-school system, and how to work with the community. The course also involved targeted student reflection activities/surveys and interfaced with the Tulane Center for Public Service. Results from a paired set of anonymous “before and after” student surveys lead us to suggest that the undergraduate students exhibited an increased desire towards STEM careers. The students also expressed, in general, higher confidence in the retention of chemical concepts that this course taught when compared to concepts retained from a standard general chemistry lab course. As importantly, this course provided the opportunity for students to engage with members of the New Orleans community.