The Bridge to Success program at FIU is providing valuable resources for first-year STEM students as they embark on their college careers.

Funded by the Office of Naval Research, the program is designed for incoming engineering, computer science and physics students to collectively participate in the investigation, building and demonstration of a science and engineering project.

This year, 27 students formed three research groups to construct and operate an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) as part of SeaPerch – an innovative underwater robotics program.

The groups participated in a series of physics and building challenges designed to encourage brainstorming and teamwork, apply basic design and engineering principles and learn to use and identify tools properly. They also worked on building and modifying the ROVs to be tested at the FIU pool. The teaching staff included local Miami-Dade Public Schools teachers, FIU faculty as well as undergraduate and graduate learning assistants.

“I’d like to change the mindset of physics as a scary beast, of math as this other worldly language,” said Omar Leon, plasma physics Ph.D. candidate and third-year learning assistant. “These students will start their first day of class knowing 20 other people who they can come talk to and ask questions to. They actually have a support group that will hopefully help carry them on all the way to graduation.”

According to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), the first two years of college are the most critical to retention of STEM majors. Research shows retention can be improved by providing intellectual engagement and a strong sense of community among STEM students. The Bridge to Success program is designed to do just that.

“The community is intended to support retention and learning for the students,” said Laird Kramer, director of FIU’s STEM Transformation Institute. “Connecting students is one key in retaining them.”

PCAST also reports that less than 40 percent of U.S. college students who begin their collegiate careers with the intention of majoring in a STEM field complete a STEM degree. FIU is on track to make a significant dent in that statistic.

During the next four years, FIU will track the progress of the students who have been through the Bridge to Success program to help quantify its impact on retention for STEM majors.


By Ayleen Barbel Fattal