In recent years, specialists and the public alike have acknowledged that American schools need to do more to encourage diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in order to create a more diverse STEM workforce. In response, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has emphasized its commitment to increasing the access of underrepresented groups to national STEM initiatives. One group the NSF is working hard to reach is students who attend Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI).
HSIs are defined by federal law as accredited, degree-granting institutions of higher education where at least 25% of the total full-time student enrollment is Hispanic. As of September 2017, more than 450 two- and four-year institutions met this definition and could apply to participate in the related federal program administered by the US Department of Education. HSIs represent a diverse group of public and private universities, colleges, and other educational institutions, although they are heavily concentrated in California, Texas, Florida, New York, and New Mexico.
Recently, the NSF established the HSI Program to increase the retention and graduation rates of students pursuing STEM degrees at these institutions.
About the HSI Program
The NSF HSI Program has five priorities, which are to 1) develop student support, 2) develop faculty support, 3) enhance STEM curricula, 4) integrate research and education, and 5) develop partnerships. Overall, the NSF hopes the HSI Program improves the quality of STEM education at HSIs, especially those institutions that have not received much financial support from the NSF in the past. As such, the NSF is now offering grants to HSIs for programs that 1) develop, implement, and test models for student retention, 2) create evidence-based programs that increase graduation rates, 3) enhance research into models for building faculty capacity and student opportunities to conduct STEM/STEM education research through partnerships, and 4) increase knowledge about promoting student engagement in STEM education.
One particularly promising new initiative funded by the NSF’s HSI Program is the National Resource Hub for STEM Education at Hispanic-Serving Institutions.
The New HSI Resource Hub
The HSI Resource Hub received a $2.6 million grant from the NSF’s HSI Program to carry out its work. Beginning in September 2018 and set to conclude in August 2023, this new initiative is a collaboration between New Mexico State University, Dona Ana Community College, and California State University, Northridge. The HSI Resource Hub hopes to build a network of the more than 450 HSIs around the country. This network will be linked through online platforms, regional conferences, workshops, certification programs, and grant opportunities.
The HSI Resource Hub will assist HSIs in obtaining the resources needed to develop and enhance STEM education on their campuses. These necessary resources include funding for initiatives that advance the careers of both STEM students and faculty members, such as training in grant-writing skills and opportunities for new grant writers to receive peer review feedback. Additionally, the HSI Resource Hub will help institutions develop the administrative tools required to enable STEM research. The initiative will also work to develop greater awareness of diversity and equity shortcomings in STEM education. Finally, the HSI Resource Hub will disseminate materials to encourage inclusive STEM teaching methods.
The HSI Resource Hub expects to use a variety of assessment methods to ensure its efforts are successful. This ongoing assessment will point to changes that should be made during the five-year grant period. Plans for sharing outcome results include developing a website, giving conference presentations, offering workshops, writing a newsletter, authoring publications, and using social media.
Because of its nationwide approach, the HSI Resource Hub hopes its results show a measurable difference in STEM graduation rates among this underrepresented student population.
The grant’s principal investigator is Elba Serrano, regents professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at New Mexico State University. Co-principal investigators from New Mexico State University are Sonya Cooper, regents professor and associate dean in the College of Engineering; Martha Desmond, regents professor in the Wildlife and Fisheries Department of the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences; and Delia Valles-Rosales, associate professor of industrial engineering in the College of Engineering. Co-principal investigators from Dona Ana Community College are Monica Torres, interim president; and Jon Juarez, regents professor and chair of the computer technology program. From California State University, Northridge is Maria Elena Zavala, professor of biology.
With the wide range of STEM disciplines represented on the research team, the findings that result from the project will hopefully be useful for students in many STEM majors. Furthermore, with a community college, a comprehensive university, and a research university all represented on the investigative team, it is hoped that the initiative’s findings will be useful for students in many types of higher education settings.
Although the project has only secured five years of funding, ideally students, staff, and faculty at HSIs will feel the impacts long after this time period. With the initiative fostering better communication and collaboration among the country’s HSIs, the organizers hope that improvements in STEM education at HSIs will continue after the end of the grant term, potentially influencing generations of students to come.