Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Mlsna, Debra Ann

Committee Member

Wipf, David O.

Committee Member

Gwaltney, Steven R.

Committee Member

Cui, Xin

Committee Member

Wei, Tianlan

Date of Degree


Original embargo terms


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Chemistry


High attrition rates in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields are major challenges in undergraduate education. Many students enrolled in STEM fields end up switching their majors to non-STEM fields or leave college without earning any academic qualification. Due to these reasons, the United States is facing a critical shortage of future talented STEM personnel in the domestic workforce. Therefore, graduating a sufficient number of talented students in STEM fields has come to national attention. It is important to examine strategies for improving STEM-major retention and undergraduate education in STEM disciplines. The main purpose of this study was to investigate methods to improve students’ social and peer-mentoring interactions within the undergraduate chemistry program at Mississippi State University to improve student learning and their attachment to chemistry and the STEM major. In Chapter II, a study performed to examine peer-mentoring interaction patterns that occur between laboratory partners in the General Chemistry I laboratories is discussed. In this study, five different laboratory partnership types were created. In the development of some partnership types, Math ACT score and lecture section were used as metrics for matching lab partners to create supportive peer-mentoring interactions. Also, students were encouraged to participate in external study groups during the semester. This research study determines whether valued peer-mentoring interactions in the laboratory could support students to be more successful in their chemistry coursework and to have improved social interactions. In Chapter III, a peer review writing assignment that mimics the publication process is presented. This writing assignment supports students to improve their writing skills by reviewing peer write-ups and practicing critical analysis of their work. This assignment is introduced to upper-level undergraduate students to improve their scientific literacy skills in order to prepare them for future scientific communication. In Chapters IV and V, two new laboratory experiments that are connected to real-life scenarios are presented. These laboratory experiments are designed to improve student interest in laboratory learning and to enhance their learning in chromatography techniques and hands-on experience with the GC-MS instrument.