Learning by Design

Learning by Design

The need for additional support for students whose academic programs focus on the sciences is not unique to Georgetown, instead reflecting a broader national challenge. The reasons for this are multiple and the design of the Regents STEM Scholars Program works to push back against each of these barriers.

Class Size

Educational Barrier – Introductory courses in the sciences are typically quite large with a very high student:professor ratio. Close mentor relationships with faculty are often disproportionately important to first-gen college students, and larger courses make it more difficult to rebuild these relationships in college.

RSSP Component – We haven’t been able to change the size of the introductory science courses, but the summer science bridge course offered through CSP is taught by the faculty who teach the introductory fall courses in Biology and Human Science, thus providing a chance for a small setting first encounter.


Educational Barrier – Introductory courses in the sciences are also typically lecture-based. The use of lecture as a pedagogy in high school is inversely correlated with the quality of the school, meaning that students from educationally underachieving high schools have less experience learning from lectures.

RSSP Component – The summer science bridge course explicitly works on helping students understand and learn from pedagogies common in the sciences. We’ve also incorporated new and innovative pedagogies – from online modules to pop-up labs (course-based undergraduate authentic research experiences).

Hierarchical nature of knowledge

Educational Barrier – Coursework in the sciences is often cumulative, with later courses in a sequence building on the knowledge gained in the earlier courses. Additionally, most science courses assume strong quantitative skills. This not only disadvantages students from educationally underachieving high schools in introductory courses in college, but lower grades in these introductory courses further places them at a disadvantage in later courses.

RSSP Component – The summer science bridge course helps to reinforce key concepts and ways of thinking in the sciences. Equally importantly, RSSP offers science-oriented CSP and GSP students (and indeed any student who has struggled in introductory science coursework) participation in online modules in subsequent summers and over winter break. These modules reinforce skills and concepts that are central to success at the next level and are typically taught by faculty who are either already known to the students or who will be teaching the next courses.

Academic load

Educational Barrier – Students in the sciences typically take more credits each semester and earn lower GPAs than students in other disciplines. This can prove overwhelming and discouraging to students who are struggling in the courses.

RSSP Component – We encourage students to reduce the number of courses/credits each semester in the first two years. Students can sometimes make up coursework in the summers, but we are advocating a model that has students taking a gap year or two to allow them the full four years of undergraduate study to complete pre-med requirements. Georgetown University School of Medicine has joined us in promoting this strategy as a path to success.


Educational Barrier – The relatively low student diversity in the sciences leaves students from underrepresented groups isolated, further leading them to seek different majors with more robust communities.

RSSP Component – The growth of RSSP has attracted record numbers of students from underrepresented groups to STEM, providing a more robust community. We also seek out these students in subsequent years to serve as Teaching Assistants in courses to promote a visible community.

Importantly, the challenges that led to the creation of the Regents STEM Scholars Program and the program’s framework are not unique to the sciences. Indeed, students in Economics and Business curricula face many of the same challenges and the lack of diversity within these fields reflects this. We believe that RSSP can serve as a model for the creation of parallel programs in other disciplines.