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"This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 2122762. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation."

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Research Project Overview

The goal of NSF-HSI award - Project FRESH (First-year Retention & Equity in STEM at Hunter) is to improve the academic success of Hispanic/Latinx students in gateway biology, chemistry, and mathematics courses and their retention within the STEM fields. With the NSF-HSI grant, the project research team tries to deepen understanding of how FRESH Project can support student success in STEM, while also examining the effectiveness of the implemented FRESH programs and activities. To achieve the goals, we have the following overarching research questions:
  • How are the FRESH Project programs related to  Hispanic/Latinx undergraduate students’ short-term and long-term academic success in gateway courses, motivation, sense of belonging, and commitment to pursuing STEM majors and careers? 

  • How do  Hispanic/Latinx undergraduate students’ motivation and self-concept as science learners relate to initial and long-term success in STEM courses and persistence in STEM?

  • How do  Hispanic/Latinx students’ perception of the institutional climate for diversity relate to their motivation, sense of belonging and short-term and long-term academic success in STEM courses and persistence in studying STEM? 

  • How do STEM students report contextual and situational factors related to their academic success both within and across different initiatives?

Contact Dr. Nicora Placa at if you have any questions, are a faculty interested in collaborating or are a Hunter 1st year student who would like to provide feedback about your experience.

Current Research Projects

Project FRESH: Unpacking STEM Students’ First-year Experiences at a Newly Designated HSI

This mixed method study is conducted to learn more about students’ first-year experiences in STEM education at a large public newly designated HSI. Overall, the findings suggest that sense of belonging plays a critical role in student persistence in STEM at the institution, while peer networking particularly influences this relationship. Students’ perceived lack of self-efficacy and science identity also discouraged them from remaining in STEM disciplines. 

Effects of Inter-semester curricular Interventions at a Newly Designated HSI

Understanding how to better support and retain students in STEM is a great interest for institutional leaders and researchers. This on-going research project aims to explore whether inter-semester curricular activities positively influence students’ intention to remain in STEM disciplines.

Discovering Factors that Impact  Latina Students’ Success & Retention in STEM 

Prior studies have suggested a STEM retention gap of underrepresented minority students, Latina students in particular. The research team interviewed several Latina students who majored in STEM disciplines and explored factors that have led these students’ success in STEM fields. By unpacking these factors, the study aims to provide insights of how to provide better support and services for Hispanic/Latinx students in STEM fields. 

Conference Presentations


Lee, J., Placa, N., Nick, C., & Medina-Ramirez, C. M. (2023, October). Project FRESH: Understanding Retention of 1st-year Students in STEM at an Urban Public Hispanic Serving Institution. SACNAS, Portland, OR.


Smeureanu, G., Lee, J., Nick, C., Placa, N., & Medina-Ramirez, C. M. (2023, June). FRESH – New Model for Retention of 1st-year Students Enrolled in First Year STEM Courses at an Urban Public HIS. Hawaii University International Conferences, Honolulu, HI.


Lee, J., Placa, N., Nick, C., Khodorovskiy, T., Klein, J., Middleton, M. Padilla, A., & Medina-Ramirez, C. M. (2023, May). Project FRESH Retention of 1st-year Students Enrolled in First Year STEM Courses at an Urban Public HISI. CUNY HISI Conference. New York, NY.


Smeureanu, G., Lee, J., Placa, N., & Medina-Ramirez, C. M. (2023, March). FRESH – New Model for Retention of 1st-year Students Enrolled in General Chemistry at an Urban Public HIS. American Chemical Society, Indianapolis, IN.

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