A critical priority for higher education today is increasing college readiness for low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented minority high school students. College readiness is defined as a student’s preparedness to enroll and succeed at a post-secondary level. Academically, this translates to the ability to complete entry level course work and be proficient enough to consider moving to the next level of course work in a designated subject area (Conley, 2007). It includes components such as understanding the norms of academic culture, the ability to integrate learning from multiple disciplines, and the interpersonal skills that enable collaboration. First-generation students face particular challenges in accessing and succeeding at selective higher education institutions. These challenges can include lower educational expectations from teachers, lack of familiarity with the college admissions process, and difficulty transitioning from high school to college (Engle, Bermeo, & O’Brien, 2006). Research into college readiness and access shows that interventions that influence both academic and social skills can impact the success of first-generation students (Conley, 2007; McKay & Estrella, 2008; Engle, Bermeo, & O’Brien, 2006).
In 2014, Washington University in St. Louis launched a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)-focused program known as the College Prep Program (CPP) for high-achieving, first-generation high school students to improve college readiness. The program introduced a design thinking course, Design Thinking: An Approach to Problem Solving, to engage students on real-world problems through human-centered research, synthesis, making, visualization, and collaboration. Focused on a challenge particularly relevant to students entering college, the course has four distinct goals: 1) Teach students processes of making and visualization; 2) Provide students a critical ...read more.