About Us

Who We Are

The First2 Network is one of 17 Alliances across the country funded through the NSF INCLUDES initiative. INCLUDES stands for Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science.

We started out as a pilot project in 2016, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation. We had reviewed the literature on STEM student success, and learned that nationally, 50% of the students who start out with a STEM major change that major or drop out of college during the first 2 years of their post secondary education, and the statistic is worse for first generation students. Understanding the obstacles that face first generation STEM students, and changing the systems that produce these obstacles, became our charge.

The First2 Network (First2) is working to generate compelling, actionable information on how participating institutions can improve the success of first-generation and other underrepresented STEM college students; to accomplish this, we fund institutional teams to test and share high-impact practices to improve the college enrollment rate and success of undergraduate STEM students, with emphasis on rural, first-generation and other underrepresented students (including students with disabilities, racial minorities, women, LGBTQ+, and low-income students) through their first 2 years of college. At the core of our shared vision to improve student STEM success is the assumption that the students themselves should be co-creators of the solutions and that our efforts will drive systemic change as well as inform resource allocation and policy on a large scale.

What We Do

  • Work in true partnership with students: not “to” students; not ”for” students; but “with” students, we explore ways to improve the college STEM experience.
  • Use improvement science to identify, test, and scale high-impact practices organized around four main drivers of change identified by the network; meaningful connection with institutional teams to promote belonging, connection to STEM research and career opportunities, engagement in leadership experiences, and success academically. The First2 Network uses a Collective Impact/Networked Improvement Communities framework to carry out improvement science; you can read more about this framework here. Institutional teams apply improvement science approaches from the Carnegie Foundation for Teaching and Learning (Plan-Do-Study-Act or PDSA rapid cycles for testing of change ideas) to build evidence for scalable and transferable practices and policies across the state and the nation.
  • Conduct educational research to understand the factors that affect rural first generation students’ entry into and persistence in STEM career pathways.
  • Foster new partnerships and programs addressing STEM success and systems change.
  • Expand our network across West Virginia and other rural states.

Frequently Asked Questions

The First2 Network is an alliance composed of undergraduate students, college faculty, teachers and educators, state policy makers, industry and more who have joined forces to improve the success of STEM students – particularly rural first generation students. We know that only about 30% of college students who declare a STEM major graduate with a STEM degree; this is an economic problem for the nation, and for West Virginia. Our aim is to double the number of STEM graduates to 60%.

First2 funds institutional teams made up of:

  • students,
  • STEM faculty, deans, chairs, and other administrators,
  • career services personnel,
  • student success professionals, and
  • academic affairs professionals

who  are all actively engaged in learning about rural, first-generation and underrepresented STEM students and  supporting students’ success as STEM majors on their campus. Teams test high impact change ideas as identified by First2 through improvement science methodology and formalized in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with First2. The improvement science methodology we use consists of Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycles and sharing findings with other institutional teams in a collective effort to scale promising practices and policies to improve  retention and graduation of rural, first-generation and underrepresented STEM majors.

Team roles include an institutional liaison who serves as the main point of contact between the institution and First2 Network, an institutional representative to the First2 Steering Committee, at least two Student Directors, a Campus Club Advisor, an IRB liaison, and an Administrative Leader.

Documenting what works and what doesn’t, and how change ideas work across multiple contexts is a central goal of this network. This is how we learn and help others learn from our efforts. Wherever it is applicable we have adopted a set of tools within a framework called “Improvement Science”, developed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

We are funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation INCLUDES program as an NSF INCLUDES Alliance. NSF INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) is a comprehensive national initiative designed to enhance U.S. leadership in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) discoveries and innovations by focusing on broadening participation in these fields at scale.

The NSF INCLUDES program is one of 10 “Big Ideas” that the U.S. National Science Foundation is devoting substantial time and resources to — recognizing that achieving a truly diverse STEM workforce is hard work, requiring participation by many stakeholders across many sectors, all of whom share a common aim.

Other NSF INCLUDES-funded Alliances:

2015: The idea to improve STEM persistence among first generation college students got its start in the Frank Drake Lounge at the Green Bank Observatory (GBO). This hallowed room is the location of the first discussion of the probability of intelligent life in the Universe in 1960, and has since been the scene for many a late-night brainstorming session among colleagues. The topic that presaged the First2 Network was on undergraduate STEM research at the Observatory and how that opportunity often came  during a student’s junior or senior year, well after the student was an established STEM major. We wondered: what could be done to ensure that more students made it through their first and second years as STEM majors, and could research internship opportunities make a difference? Conversations with colleagues in education about STEM culture in our colleges and universities further illuminated the lack of research on the experience of rural first generation students, as well as a realization that the students themselves — those in the trenches as STEM majors — must be part of fixing the systems that lead to attrition.

2016: A small band of people including folks from GBO, Fairmont State University, High Rocks Educational Corporation, and West Virginia University were awarded a two-year grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to try some promising practices that could impact STEM persistence and to conduct preliminary research aimed at better understanding the motivation of rural first Generation STEM students.

2018: A full NSF INCLUDES Alliance proposal was submitted and in September 2018 we received word that we were one of 5 Alliances to be funded nation-wide.

When we started, the name came from the fact that most STEM majors drop out of the STEM career path during the first 2 years of post-secondary education. However since then, we have noticed that the “First to” aspect of our network is exciting! Many of our students are first to go to college and are first to become leaders in changing the systems that create barriers to STEM persistence in the first place.

It’s as easy as filling out the join form below or on our home page. By joining the network, you will receive our monthly newsletter and you may participate in our bi-annual conferences. There are also many other benefits to joining the First2 Network; learn more on our “Opportunities” page.

Get Involved

The problem is complex, and there are many innovative programs in West Virginia and beyond that are working on it. Let’s join forces to amplify this progress!

Want to join the First2 Network? Sign up below!

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