An Interdisciplinary Model to Diversify STEM Participation: College, High School, and Industry Partnerships

An Interdisciplinary Model to Diversify STEM Participation: College, High School, and Industry Partnerships

Margaret R. Blanchard, Richard A. Venditti, Shana L. McAlexander, Katherine R. McCance, Karen M. Collier
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4966-7.ch007
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This chapter describes an interdisciplinary program between a College of Education and a College of Natural Resources and their partnerships with rural high schools, regional colleges, and bioeconomy industries. The overarching goal of the program was to provide engaging professional development and support for teachers and diverse undergraduate students to prepare and promote diverse students to consider STEM majors and careers related to bioproducts and bioenergy. A team of faculty and graduate students from a Forest Biomaterials department and a Science Education department developed online courses, workshops, and laboratory activities and internship placements for undergraduate students and high school science and CTE teachers. This chapter details the need for the program, its context, online course development, and laboratory activities. For each of the key partners in the program—the faculty and graduate students, the high school teachers, and the undergraduate students—key strategies, lessons learned, and recommendations are shared.
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There is a need to develop the workforce in bioenergy, bioproducts, and the bioeconomy (Energy Independence and Security Act, 2007). Biobased product employment (excluding biofuels) grew from 2014 to 2016 by 17% and continues to grow, contributing $459 billion to the U.S. economy (Golden et al., 2018). In addition to the technical/scientific knowledge specific to the bioproducts and bioenergy industry, there are technological skill sets required in 21st century manufacturing environments. These include skills in chemistry, biology, experimental design, process control, written and oral communication, data management, and working across disciplines (Glaser, 2013). Accomplished individuals in these areas are highly competitive in today’s workforce. Jobs in these industries span the educational spectrum: from 2-year technical school to advanced, professional degrees (Glaser, 2013). Currently, many sectors of the STEM workforce lack the diverse perspectives of underrepresented minorities and females (National Science Foundation, 2017). Increasing the diversity of this workforce will help to provide new perspectives for innovation and sustainable solutions (Herring, 2009). Given this, there is a need to build these skills into high school curricula (NEA, 2012).

STEM experiences can vary greatly between students, with socio-economic factors, geographic region, racial background, and gender influencing course persistence and future careers (Alegria & Branch, 2015; Andersen & Ward, 2014; Brown et al., 2016). Approximately 25% of K-12 US students are enrolled in rural schools that primarily enroll Black and Brown students, 14% of which are designated as high-poverty schools (Lavalley, 2018). Schools designated as high poverty tend to have fewer teachers who are certified in their content areas, fewer advanced courses offered in STEM subjects, and higher turnover than in wealthier schools (Darling-Hammond & Hammond, 2015).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Undergraduate: A student attending a postsecondary institution and who has not yet obtained an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

STEM Careers: Any career in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics fields.

Bioeconomy: Using renewable biological resources and waste streams to produce value-added bioproducts, such as energy, fuel, chemicals, and consumer goods; an alternative to a fossil fuel-based economy and manufacturing processes.

Bioproducts: Products, such as biofuels, bioplastics, biopharmaceuticals, and other biomaterials, that are made from renewable biological resources and waste streams.

Bioenergy: A form of renewable energy that is produced from biological materials including wood, agricultural residues, municipal solid waste, and algae.

Rural Education: Schools in rural areas that face unique challenges such as economic distress and high teacher turnover.

Community College Transfer: A student who moves from a community college (two-year postsecondary institution) to a four-year college or university.

High School: A secondary school, usually grades 9 through 12, that students attend after primary and middle school.

Internships: A short-term position (paid or unpaid) with a company or organization to gain work experience in and exposure to a career or field of interest.

Online Courses: A course that is conducted in an online format rather than face-to-face.

Interdisciplinary: Involving two or more academic disciplines.

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