Leaders in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields have long noted the importance of diversifying the STEM workforce. These fields are overwhelmingly white and male, and the groups that are underrepresented in STEM have immense untapped potential. In the US, one of the groups that are underrepresented in STEM is Hispanic Americans. To encourage more Hispanic students to enter the STEM workforce, in 2018 the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced an exciting new initiative to establish a STEM resource hub for Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) in higher education.
Now, two HSIs in Arizona have announced a new program also funded by the NSF to provide faculty and staff with training in STEM instruction, as well as scholarships and mentors for transfer students in certain STEM disciplines. It is hoped that this program will encourage more students to complete STEM-related four-year degrees and strengthen the STEM workforce. Read on to learn the details of this endeavor.
About the NSF Funding
In 2019, the NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education announced a more than $4.8 million grant to support STEM students transferring between two specific two- and four-year HSIs. These institutions are Pima Community College and the University of Arizona, both in Tucson, Arizona. The funding is being supplied by the NSF’s Scholarships in STEM program, and although planning activities have already begun, the initiative will be implemented in the summer of 2020.
The faculty and staff training aspect of the initiative will see faculty and staff members at both the University of Arizona and Pima Community College learn about student-centered approaches to STEM teaching. In addition, the training aims to help faculty and staff members become effective mentors to students. It is hoped that these efforts will allow students to feel a stronger sense of belonging in the STEM disciplines, from the moment they arrive on either campus.
Although this program is specific to these two HSIs, it should be noted that the details of the initiative could be reproduced at other colleges and universities around the country. In fact, the NSF’s Scholarships in STEM program aims to increase the number of low-income students earning degrees in STEM fields, no matter their location. Any institution interested in educating future STEM workers and strengthening the academic and career pathways of low-income STEM students could model their efforts after this project.
The ASEMS Transfer S-STEM Program
At the University of Arizona, 94 students studying STEM disciplines and transferring from Pima Community College will receive scholarship funding for up to six semesters each. Each student can expect to receive between $4,000 and $10,000 per semester depending on individual financial need. The transferring students can major in biological sciences, physical sciences, mathematical sciences, computer and information sciences, geosciences, or engineering at the university.
Along with the scholarship funding, the transfer students will benefit from other support. Students will be enrolled in two special courses in their first year at the university, one that focuses on learning strategies and student success habits and one that focuses on research skills. In addition, throughout their first year at the university, the students will meet monthly with trained peer mentors. In their second year, the students will benefit from mock interview opportunities and the chance to meet with potential employers.
STEM Offerings at Pima Community College
Before transferring to the University of Arizona, students at Pima Community College might enroll in a number of STEM-related associate degree programs. These include associate degrees with concentrations in biology, chemistry, or pre-engineering, along with a general associate of science degree. There are currently over 2,600 students enrolled in these degree programs at Pima Community College.
To support these students, Pima Community College offers tutoring in the STEM subjects of mathematics, biology, chemistry, and engineering, among others. Additionally, students are expected to meet with an academic advisor each semester to receive guidance on degree completion. Students intending to transfer also have the opportunity to take a course designed to teach strategies related to transferring.
This NSF-funded program is expected to last for five years. At the end of that time, the principle investigators hope to be able to answer the following questions: What key components will best help faculty and staff members transform their teaching and mentorship? How can transfer students have improved experiences and stronger STEM identities? How can academic, research, and career outcomes for STEM transfer students be improved? Overall, the researchers hope to help overcome persistent stereotypes about STEM transfer students and to help these students achieve greater self-confidence.
Measurement of these outcomes will be assessed through survey responses, control group comparisons, and annual data reports. A website will be created to share the results, and it is expected that workshops and presentations will also be held. Additionally, the researchers expect to publish their findings in academic journals.