STATUS: Implementing pre-college STEM Access and Training for Underserved Students
Although by no means the only factor influencing student success, lack of familial support among underserved students has been implicated in decreases motivation and retention rates (e.g., Dennis, Phinney and Chuateco, 2005). As a result, many researchers are pursuing initiatives tho better engage these students by meeting them where theyﾒre at and actively cultivating buy-in from family members, the people best situated to provide daily support and encouragement.
Our primary goal was to develop program activities that would promote active engagement among STEM-interested underserved students and their participating family members. To accomplish this we implemented a series of weekly, laboratory-based activities to engage and empower students while simultaneously connecting their respective family members to the broader goal of supporting their STEM-capable student. We emerged with a much clearer sense of how best to optimize pre-college program activities with an eye toward incorporating family members' perspective and support.
Our exploratory program was developed and staffed by college faculty at a selective small liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest, and was designed to engage both underserved students from area high schools and their family members in pre-college, STEM learning experiences. Students were recruited from the local school district by their teachers, tutors, and district liaisons. They attended 2-hour weekly laboratory session for six weeks and participated in investigative, hands-on activities in physiology, biophysics, cognitive neuroscience, sensation and perception, genetics, and exercise physiology. They developed hypotheses, collected and analyzed data, and reflected on the experiments and the accompanying learning process. In parallel to this, weekly meetings where held with studentsﾒ parents, where the focus was on issues of STEM career prospects, college selection, admissions and financial aid procedures, and availability to resources while in college. Throughout, all communications with parents were conducted in their native language (predominantly Spanish).
Our preliminary data, collected over a two-stage pilot/implementation schedule that spanned two academic years (13/14, 14/15), demonstrated increased interest in and enthusiasm for STEM career paths as a result of participating in program activities, both lab and community-based, that were designed to engage and empower self-efficacy among underserved students. We also collected preliminary attitudinal data from sibling and parent participants, and these data indicate the role of family remains a critical predictor of future success among underserved students whose interests lie in STEM-based fields.
The impetus for STATUS emerged from prior funding via NSF awards for undergraduate education involving CCLI, TUES and, most recently RCN-UBE. Our project provides a platform for broader implementation within the Salem-Keizer School District in Oregon, and we are currently working with other colleagues in the region (U. Oregon, Oregon State University) to help catalyze findings from a variety of different initiatives involving pre-college underserved students in STEM (HHMI, Keck, and NSF). Our aim is to formalize this dual �curriculum� -- one for students, one for parents � to emphasize its novel aspects for attracting and engaging underserved STEM-interested pre-college students. All aspects of this work have been and will continue to be disseminated broadly through conference presentations and peer-reviewed publications.
Institutional inertia was the greatest obstacle we encountered. We overcame this by establishing new connections directly with high school students and their families through the teachers and counselors.