Eighty Clemson University freshmen are participating in a new program that gives them a chance to ease into the challenging math courses that too often derail students’ dreams of becoming engineers.

The program, Boyd Scholars, targets freshman engineering majors who need a little extra time to complete their required calculus courses. Students will take an extended curriculum that delays their start in calculus, yet keeps them on track to finish their required courses before the start of their sophomore year.

Dr. Beth Stephan works with a student.

Beth Stephan, left, works with a student.

Funding for the program comes from a $1.25 million gift that the Darnall W. & Susan F. Boyd Foundation is providing to Clemson University’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.

It’s a crucial gift because for many students calculus is the main stumbling block on their path to engineering degrees and the lucrative careers that often follow. Many of those careers are foundational to advanced manufacturing, a cornerstone of the South Carolina economy.

Brad Putman, the college’s associate dean for undergraduate studies, said Boyd Scholars will help address the state’s STEM workforce shortage.

“STEM careers and salaries can be the golden key to elevate many students to a better life with rewarding salaries and job security,” he said. “Too often, though, some students struggle with the rigors of college-level STEM education, particularly with calculus. The Boyd Scholars program will help them clear hurdles that might otherwise trip them up.”

The traditional path for Clemson freshmen who are majoring in engineering is to take calculus I in the fall and calculus II in the spring.

Boyd Scholars will instead take a fall-semester course that introduces them to the application of math in engineering. They will follow-up with calculus I in the spring and remain on campus over the summer to take calculus II.

Funding from the Boyd Foundation becomes especially critical for students in the summer. Thanks to the Boyd Foundation, a financial award to each Boyd Scholar will cover summer tuition and room and board.

Beth Stephan, director of academics in General Engineering at Clemson, said many students arrive on campus underprepared for calculus through no fault of their own. It’s just that their hometown schools didn’t have the programs that could get them ready, she said.

“This money allows us to keep those students at Clemson all summer long,” said Stephan, who oversees Boyd Scholars. “Tuition and room and board are all paid. They can start in the right math for them, and there are no extra dollars out of pocket to get them caught up. This program has the potential to be truly life-changing.”

The Boyd family said the gift helps honor Darnall W. Boyd, who lived in Columbia virtually all of his life and died in 2015 at 88 years old.

“Our family has cared deeply about South Carolina for many years and has worked hard to make it a better place,” the family said. “We are excited about the program the Clemson team has created and pleased to help turn it into a reality. This program will help some of the state’s students who need it most.”

Joe Watkins, the director of General Engineering at Clemson, said the program will help Clemson retain engineering majors who might otherwise change majors or drop out of college altogether.

“Through data analysis, we have identified which students are at risk to drop out but could be successful if they are given just a few additional months to master important building-block concepts,” Watkins said. “This new curriculum, extending into summer, will give students the opportunity they need to absorb difficult concepts and stay on track to graduation.”

The schedule that has been laid out for Boyd Scholars gives them time to prepare for calculus and acclimate to university life but still complete their calculus requirement before a crucial deadline.

In-state engineering students who hold LIFE and Palmetto Fellows scholarships need to finish calculus I and II before August at the end of their freshman year to earn a STEM enhancement, Stephan said.

Also as part of the program, Boyd Scholars will arrive on campus for freshman year a few days before other students, giving them a chance to hear from speakers, find their way around and figure out the basics of university life.

At the start of the academic year, Boyd Scholars take engineering, chemistry, math and several other classes together as a cohort.

“They see the same people every week and form tight study groups,” Stephan said. “That will be their support system as they move through.”

Boyd Scholars also take a study-skills course that integrates organizational skills that will translate the professional world. They learn, for example, to draft agendas for meetings and to pick meeting leaders. Also in the course, the students use reflection and journaling as tools for improvement.

The study skills course was developed through a partnership with Clemson’s Class of 1956 Academic Success Center.

Anand Gramopadhye, the college’s dean, said that when he sat down with Darnall Boyd in 2015 they talked about their shared concern for South Carolina’s students and a vision for a better future.

“He understood that an important factor in creating a brighter future lay within our ability to educate future generations, particularly in STEM disciplines,” Gramopadhye said. “The program developed by the college positions our students and the state for success. I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Boyd Foundation for creating this opportunity with their forward-thinking gift.”

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