History of STEP

step logo

In 2004, through a very competitive process, Western Michigan University was awarded a STEM Talent Expansion Program (STEP) grant from the National Science Foundation to implement "Student and Faculty Learning Communities to Increase Graduation Rates in STEM Disciplines" (award #0336581). STEP included placing students in a cohort learning community. Progressing through the first year of college as a cohort allows students to build social and academic connections with each other, thus easing the transition from high school to college and helping students form study groups. The STEP grant has resulted in a 39 percent increase in the retention of seniors in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Recognizing that the cognitive and effective development of students are intertwined and that students spend a significant amount of time outside of the classroom, the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Division of Student Affairs collaborated and was awarded a second NSF STEP grant in 2010 titled "Effective Academic and Student Affairs Collaboration to Enhance Student Success in Engineering and Applied Sciences" (award #0969287). In May of 2018 the NSF grant ended and the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences will continue STEP via differential tuition dollars. 

STEP Cohorts /learning communities

On average more than 98 percent of incoming first-year CEAS students are placed in cohorts of 15-25 students based on math placement and major. They take the same 3 to 5 courses together in fall semester and 2 to 4 courses together in spring semester. STEP staff build the class schedules for the cohorts and place the students into cohorts during summer orientation. Students form study groups naturally from seeing the same familiar faces in multiple classes.

STEP Cohorts and Learning Communities 

STEP early intervention

STEP flags approximately 400 first-year, returning sophomore, and first-time transfer students of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS) who under-perform in critical STEM courses. STEP program staff outline an academic plan for each student during a meeting based on the students’ academic needs. The STEP director follows up with all students who had meetings to see how the plan is working, if grades are improving, and to check if students need additional help or additional resources. Copies of the academic early intervention plans are also shared with the advising office helping CEAS academic advisors to be aware of issues when meeting with students.

Academic support

STEP Student Success Centers

STEP employs approximately 20 tutors in three STEP Student Success Centers (SSCs. The SSCs are located in two residence halls including Eldridge/Fox and French Hall. Another SSC is located at the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS) in Floyd Hall. STEP Student Success Centers serve all engineering students in need of academic help. The two residence hall locations offer night-time tutoring hours between 7 pm and 1 am. The Parkview location in Floyd Hall offers daytime tutoring that includes support for many upper level engineering and computer science courses. The STEP director, along with appointed senior STEP SSC staff, meet bi-weekly to coordinate management of the tutors and the centers. The STEP director meets with all the tutors on a monthly basis and gains valuable insight regarding which STEP tutoring services are most needed by our students so publicity and support can be coordinated based on those immediate needs.

Student Success CentERS

Non-attendance reporting

WMU encourages faculty and staff teaching engineering courses including math, physics, and chemistry, to report students who miss two or more of their classes. The STEP program receives reports for students of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS) not attending classes and attempts to contact each student to direct them to campus resources as needed, including referral to STEP Student Success Center tutoring, Sindecuse Mental Health Services, faculty office hours, academic advising, etc. STEP also partners with Residence Life to contact students who live on campus to encourage them to re-engage in classes and to provide support to help them catch up on what they may have missed.

Academic support 

CEAS-Preparatory program

Students who wish to study at the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS) and have ACT math sub-scores that place them in Algebra II are placed into the CEAS Preparatory program. These students have their own cohorts that are led by STEP mentors who are also CEAS academic advisors. Students are enrolled in the engineering-themed first year experience seminar (ENGR 2100) as the anchor course for each cohort which is also instructed by academic advisors. This course focuses on study habits and strategies for studying engineering or applied science to help the students become successful at CEAS.


Women and Leadership in the college of engineering and applied sciences

STEP has created a one-credit-hour course, ENGR 4950, for incoming female freshmen and transfer students entitled Women and Leadership in Engineering and Applied Sciences. The seminar course is modeled after other successful women in science and engineering programs in the United States. This topics course introduces speakers, mainly female alums, of Western Michigan University's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS), who present to the class about their current job and time at WMU. They offer advice and guidance for the students using their life experience as examples, and allow time for questions at the end of each class period. Other presentations include a student panel comprised of current female CEAS students to talk about classes, internships, tutoring, and registered student organization (RSO) opportunities. Each student is assigned a WMU Alumni mentor who is a working female professional in engineering or applied science.

Engineering house

Students  show off their cardboard canoe as part of CEAS-related programming.

The residence hall Eldridge/Fox or Valley III, also known as Engineering House, serves as the engineering and applied sciences living-learning community for the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS) students. Engineering House hosts special engineering specific programming for students including the cardboard canoe race, CEAS Family Feud, how to get an internship, video games, and building a trebuchet. CEAS registered student organizations also host a meet and greet at Engineering House in the fall.

STEP also provides and maintains a computer lab that contains the same computers and programs as those in the Computer Aided Engineering Center (CAE) in Floyd Hall. The largest STEP Student Success Center is also located in Engineering House.


Fall welcome and passport day

STEP plans and facilitates a fall welcome program called Passport Day.  More than 400 incoming students are bused to the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS) where they receive a “passport” that serves as a guide for touring labs and department offices and also includes presentations about time management, metacognition, and meeting the Student Success Center tutors. Students receive a stamp in their passport for every location they visit. The students with the most stamps are awarded prizes. Select CEAS registered student organizations also provide demonstrations including viewing the canoe from the Concrete Canoe team, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics performs acrobatic shows with their student-built radio controlled airplanes. The Sunseeker, Baja, and Formula race teams are also on hand and display their student-built cars.

Fall Welcome