Science whiz kid to failing college student what are the odds
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Science Whiz Kid to Failing College Student: What are the Odds?. NACADA National Conference October 8, 2005. Kathleen Sindt, Ph.D. Senior Academic Advisor Krieger School of Arts and Sciences Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD [email protected] Heather Bisher, M.A.E. First Year Advisor

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Science Whiz Kid to Failing College Student: What are the Odds?

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Science whiz kid to failing college student what are the odds

Science Whiz Kid to Failing College Student: What are the Odds?

NACADA National Conference

October 8, 2005


Kathleen Sindt, Ph.D.

Senior Academic Advisor

Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, MD

[email protected]

Heather Bisher, M.A.E.

First Year Advisor

Residence Life and New Student Programs

Miami University

Oxford, Ohio

[email protected]

Carmen Etienne, M.A.

Academic Advisor

School of Engineering and Computer Science

Oakland University

Rochester, MI

[email protected]




“Moving from adolescence to adulthood involves detaching from parents, finding career direction, achieving autonomy, and developing a mature relationship, among several processes described by developmental theorists…Exceptional ability does not exempt individuals from struggles associated with accomplishing these tasks. In fact, heightened sensitivity, which has been associated with high ability…may make “uncontrollable: developmental transitions uniquely challenging for the highly able. Difficult developmental transitions may in turn place such individuals at risk for poor post-high-school academic performance.” (Peterson, 2002)

Comparison of the institutions

Comparison of the Institutions

Diversity comparison

Diversity Comparison

Comparison of science and engineering majors

Comparison of Science and Engineering Majors

  • Miami University – 4.6% engineering, 11.2% sciences, 15.8% in engineering or science

  • Oakland University – 9% engineering, 4.5% sciences, 14.5% engineering or science

  • Johns Hopkins University – approx. one-third in engineering, sciences – depends on definition (pre-med!)

Comparison of the institutions1

Comparison of the Institutions

  • Miami University

    • Mid-sized, public institution with private atmosphere (public ivy)

    • Academic advising occurs in the residence halls during the first year

    • Considerably older than other two institutions

  • Oakland University

    • Slightly more women attending

    • Slightly older students attending

    • Similar in size to Miami University

  • Johns Hopkins

    • Much more diverse population

    • Research institution

    • Smaller undergraduate population

Literature review

Literature Review

Much of the published work can be grouped into three areas:

  • Self-regulated learning and motivation

  • Personality and attitude

  • Academic background

Self regulated learning and motivation

Self-Regulated Learning and Motivation

Self-regulated learning can be defined as the process by which students actively use self-generated cognitions, behaviors and emotions to achieve a goal.

These students plan their learning, practice a variety of learning strategies and apply old techniques to new settings, evaluate their own learning in the context of their goals, and reflect upon what worked.

Self regulated learning and motivation1

Self-Regulated Learning and Motivation

  • Several articles show that high-achieving students report more use of self-regulated strategies than lower achieving students

  • A “positive motivational orientation” is highly related to use of self-regulated strategies (Tamsen & Livingston, 1999)

  • Achievement goals in an introductory psychology class do appear to play a role in the student’s longer term success (Harackiewicz et al., 2002)

  • Students who use more intrinsic regulation strategies (internal values) tend to report a stronger goal of learning the material, versus those with extrinsic regulation strategies (concrete rewards) who report a goal of a grade. “Students monitor and regulate their motivation for completing academic tasks” (Wolters, 1998).

Personality and attitude

Personality and Attitude

  • Attitude does not predict achievement in physics (Willson et al., 2000) even though other studies suggest it does (all engineering students?) Learning physics concepts does lead to greater achievement over time.

  • Openness to new ideas and being conscientious were related to higher GPA, but extroversion and quality of effort in personal/social items have a negative effect (Bauer & Liang, 2003)

  • Persisters in engineering attribute their success to their efforts while non-persisters attribute their failures to their own perceived lack of ability (Nauta et al., 1999).

  • Scores on a physics quiz were reflective of how the students predicted they would do. An internal locus of control was positively correlated to higher scores on a physics quiz(Norvilitis, 2002).

Academic background

Academic Background

  • Numerous studies show that high school GPA and SAT/ACT scores are predictors of college performance

  • Students who completed calculus in high school were 28 times more likely to be a high achiever in college (Ruban & Nora, 2002)

  • Reasoning ability appears to be a predictor of achievement in introductory college biology courses while prior knowledge was not shown to be a predictor (Johnson & Lawson, 1997)

  • Students who had previously completed more math course did better on a physics quiz (Norvilitis et al., 2001)

  • Those who attended class performed better (Editoral)

  • Older students and students who took chemistry later in their college years did better in chemistry than those who took the class as a freshman (Burdge & Daubenmire, 2001)

  • Biology faculty value the skills of writing ability, integration of themes, math skills, and ability to ask questions in a student (Daempfle, 2002)

Johns hopkins university

Johns Hopkins University

Talking Points

  • Reviewed the information available in the academic permanent record of poor performers in chemistry and biology

  • Differences in advising between Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and Whiting School of Engineering

Performance vs background

Out of 296 students in General Biology I and 277 students in Intro Chemistry I:

17 KSAS freshmen received D’s or F’s

(Note: surveyed only sec 01 of chemistry)

The General Biology class is about half freshmen, mainly AS students.

Intro Chemistry I class is nearly all freshmen, but about one-third are EN students.

Performance vs. Background



  • 7 male (2 African-American/Black) and 10 females (4 African-American/Black and 1 Hispanic)

  • 35% African-American/Black (5% undergrad. pop.)

  • 6% Hispanic (5% undergrad. pop.)

  • 10 had at least one low SAT score if not both (low defined as <600). JHU “middle 50%” verbal is 640-730, math is 660-760

  • 7 were varsity athletes

  • 3 were withdrawn for poor academic performance after spring semester (18%, approx. 0.6% total AS pop. in spring 2005) and one went on LOA in spring for financial reasons

  • All were in at least 2 math or science classes

  • 12 of the 17 were in at least 3 math or science classes

Summary continued

Summary Continued

  • 5 had no AP math or science in high school. The rest took at least one math or science AP class

  • 2 reported <15 hours per week study time in high school and expected to not study more in college

  • 3 personally commented to an advisor that they took on too much in co-curricular activities (no athletes)

Summary continued1

Summary Continued

  • 11 appear relatively undecided judged by:

    • Applied as humanities or social sciences major, but took science classes (pre-med?)

    • Switched out of all science classes by spring

    • Comments made by students found in advising notes


      • Creates artistic guitars, but parents want math/science

      • National Level Irish dancer

      • Art History applicant, took 2 sciences, 2nd semester confusion

      • One said “he has no short-term goals anymore”



  • Poorly prepared academically from high school compared to their peers

  • Undecided about their major or career goals

  • Difficulty balancing extracurriculars (sports or otherwise) and math and science courses

    “Unrealistic Expectations”

Conclusion versus the literature

Conclusion versus the Literature

  • Self-regulated learning or motivation –

    • Was high school easy and they never had to learn time management or master learning methods?

    • Are they undecided about their goals or feel pressure to pursue a subject not of interest to them so therefore, may have waning motivation?

  • Personality attitude –

    • Several were over-involved in activities; does this imply they are extraverts?

    • Do we know their locus of control? We often hear complaints about grading from this population – an example of external locus of control.

  • Academic background –

    • Like it or not, SAT scores have been shown to correlate to college GPA, is this just what we should expect?

    • Should we question their reasoning ability or their previous concept knowledge?

Ksas vs wse advising philosophies

KSAS vs. WSE Advising Philosophies

  • Faculty advisors versus professional advisors

  • First year requirements versus exploration

  • Weighing progression through major versus ability to handle material

Attraction of high achieving students to miami

Attraction of High-Achieving Students to Miami

  • Average SAT Combined Scores

    • 1300 or above: 28%

    • 1200 or above: 63%

    • 1100 or above: 90%

  • Average ACT Composite Scores

    • 30 or above: 17%

    • 26 or above: 60%

    • 22 or above: 96%

  • 78% are Advanced College Study Participants

  • 3% are National Merit Scholars

  • 6% are Valedictorians/Salutatorians

Living learning communities

Living Learning Communities

  • The mission of Living Learning Communities at Miami University is to create and extend student learning opportunities outside of the classroom that heighten student intellectual and personal growth. Living Learning Communities are purposeful attempts to integrate curricular and co-curricular experiences that complement and extend classroom learning. These communities foster faculty and resident interaction that enhances both intellectual and personal growth of the residents. Each community is built around a specific field of study or area of interest and is structured so students have a high degree of involvement in its formation.

Living learning communities llcs and advising in the residence halls at miami

Living Learning Communities (LLCs) and Advising in the Residence Halls at Miami

  • All first year students are advised by their first year adviser (graduate students and full-time employees; most are also hall directors)

  • Opportunity to build stronger relationships and have on-going conversations about academics and adjustment issues

  • All residence halls are living learning communities; many of these are themed communities (i.e. Women in Math, Science, and Engineering & Technology and Society)

  • Students tend to be a little more academically successful in the presence of LLCs

  • Academic advising is centered on liberal education to explore options with a developmental philosophy

Living learning communities llcs

Living Learning Communities (LLCs)

  • Women in Math, Science, and Engineering (WiMSE) & Technology and Society (TAS) LLCs

    • Study groups form naturally

    • Extracurricular events in hall relate to majors (i.e. faculty coming into the building at night for presentations/speaking opportunities)

    • Students feel the pressure to do well because all of their neighbors are in the same courses

    • Competition naturally occurs and can stress relationships (especially in roommate situations)

Fall mid term interventions and spring probation meetings

Fall Mid-term Interventions and Spring Probation Meetings

  • Students’ reactions to why they were failing or failed a course

    • Did not know how to study for the course

    • Did not follow up on any resources provided to improve course grade

    • Overwhelmed by the large amount of material presented (crammed into one test)

    • Refused to ask for help from professors/advisers

    • Not enough time to concentrate on one subject they are struggling with (i.e. Calculus because they were also taking physics and a computer science course)

    • Family or personal issues got in the way of preparing for tests (i.e. would often wait till the last minute to study)

    • Spent too much time in unhealthy extracurricular activities (i.e. sleeping too much due to depression, regular alcohol use)

    • Not interested in the course because they do not want to be in that major or degree program (i.e. family pressures to live up to)

A student s reflection

A Student’s Reflection

  • When Preparing for an Exam

    • “I wait until a day or two before the exam to start studying”

    • “I don’t know how to pick out the important stuff in my notes to study for the test”

    • “Studying in groups doesn’t help me because we always end up focusing on the person who doesn’t know anything and then the rest of us can’t learn what we need to for the test”

Other students reflections

Other Students’ Reflections

  • Unrealistic Perceptions/Expectations

    • “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, my dad’s a doctor, my mom’s a doctor, and my grandpa’s a doctor”

    • “I hate math, but I have to do it ‘cause my family wants me to be a doctor”

    • “I have to get A’s, my parent’s expect A’s”

    • “I study all the time, 4-5 hours each day and it’s not enough…I’m still getting a C in Chemistry”



  • How do we send the message to students that they need to choose a major that’s right for them?

  • Students are not academically prepared for how to study or to take good notes…how do we encourage them to get help when they think they have to be self-sufficient?

  • How do we help students find a balance between the many demanding classes without them having to retake or spread them out so much that they don’t graduate in 4 years?

  • How do we encourage students to take advantage of campus resources that are there to help them succeed?

Oakland university ap research

Oakland University AP Research

  • AP results are compiled from our Institutional Research Office.

  • Until this presentation, OU had not really looked at the AP history of our students. It is now going to be reviewed on a regular basis.

  • Students are usually required to receive a 3 or higher on most exams with some exceptions requiring a 4 or higher.

  • Results are from 2001-2002 and were found to be very positive

  • Comparison was made between common AP tests taken and overall gpa for the first year

2001 and 2002 ftiacs english composition ap exam overall grade point results in first year

2001 and 2002 FTIACs English Composition AP ExamOverall Grade Point Results in First Year

2001 and 2002 ftiacs statistics ap exam overall grade point results in first year

2001 and 2002 FTIACs Statistics AP ExamOverall Grade Point Results in First Year

2001 and 2002 ftiacs chemistry ap exam overall grade point results in first year

2001 and 2002 FTIACs Chemistry AP ExamOverall Grade Point Results in First Year

2001 and 2002 ftiacs physics ap exam overall grade point results in first year

2001 and 2002 FTIACs Physics AP ExamOverall Grade Point Results in First Year

2001 and 2002 ftiacs computer science ap exam overall grade point results in first year

2001 and 2002 FTIACs Computer Science AP ExamOverall Grade Point Results in First Year

2001 and 2002 ftiacs calculus ap exam overall grade point results in first year

2001 and 2002 FTIACs Calculus AP ExamOverall Grade Point Results in First Year

Conclusions for ou ap results

Conclusions for OU AP Results

  • OU is a smaller institution. Tends to attract many academically prepared students from 2 major counties. Class size is also smaller with an average class size of 30-40 students.

  • Programs are not competitive as far as enrollment caps. This may decrease the stress-level of more difficult majors.

  • OU has several programs currently in place to help freshmen be successful – COM 101 (freshman seminar course), Connections, Student Success Coaches, and others.

Examples of ou high achievers that are having academic difficulty and why

Examples of OU High Achievers That Are Having Academic Difficulty and Why

  • 3.5 Asian student in engineering cheats on a computer science lab – became ill and felt pressure to get work done on time

  • 3.8 student in engineering diagnosed with 5 different mental health illnesses after 1 year and fails all of his classes more than once

  • 3.8 student in computer science starts failing courses after the first year due to drug addiction

Similarities across our campuses

Similarities Across Our Campuses

  • Similarities

    • Attracting high-achieving students who are academically unprepared

    • High expectations are placed on these students to succeed

    • Time management is a huge issue (i.e. especially with multiple science courses and extracurricular commitments)

      * No significant differences were found despite different populations being attracted to each of the institutions*

Why do whiz kids fail

Why Do Whiz Kids Fail?

  • Mental health issues

  • Competitive majors – perhaps while they have a history of success, they may not be as well prepared as their peers

  • Study skills – weak ability to self-regulate their learning

  • Lack of support from significant others

  • First generation college – lack of understanding of the time commitment necessary or how to seek help

  • Drugs and alcohol

  • Parental pressure and unrealistic expectations

  • Cultural issues

What can we do to help these students succeed

What Can We Do to Help These Students Succeed?

  • We cannot assume that high achieving students can sail through our math/science programs without failure.

  • Get to know these students. Find out what motivates them as well as what worries them.

  • Know when to refer!

  • Encourage student organization involvement outside of their major.

  • May need to assist the student in learning how to ask for help.

  • Review their background in comparison to their peers and tailor your advising to their academic history.

Questions thank you

Questions?Thank you!

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