Project Engage: Solutions for Recruiting, Retaining, and Reinforcing STEM Majors From Rural Areas

Project Engage: Solutions for Recruiting, Retaining, and Reinforcing STEM Majors From Rural Areas

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6341-9.ch002
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As the nation seeks to diversify the STEM workforce, looking toward the rural areas of the United States affords an opportunity to increase the flow of students into the STEM pipeline. However, rural students face many roadblocks on the way to STEM careers including poor educational attainment, lack of STEM experiences, few STEM role models, inadequate technology preparation, and low motivation to pursue STEM. This chapter explores those barriers and proposes Project Engage as an avenue for breaking down the barriers. The chapter identifies and explains the major components of Project Engage: strategic mentoring, STEM engagement activities, and guided career exploration. These combined components create a comprehensive framework for addressing the barriers imposed by the nature of growing up “rural.” Statistical data is presented that reveals an increase in recruitment of STEM majors as well as positive results of retention.
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Project Engage Overview

Project Engage is a program funded by the U.S. Department of Education MSEIP grant. This program assists “predominantly minority institutions in effecting long-range improvement in science and engineering education programs and increasing the flow of underrepresented ethnic minorities, particularly minority women, into science and engineering careers.” MSEIP provides four types of grants: 1) institutional project grants supporting the implementation of a comprehensive science improvement plan, which may include any combination of activities for improving the preparation of minority students for careers in science; 2) special project grants supporting activities that improve quality training in science and engineering at minority institutions or enhance the minority institutions' general scientific research capabilities; 3) cooperative project grants assisting groups of nonprofit accredited colleges and universities to work together to conduct a science improvement program; and 4) design project grants assisting minority institutions that do not have their own appropriate resources or personnel to plan and develop long-range science improvement programs (U. S. Department of Education, 2017).

Project Engage was originally a three-year institutional project grant from 2012 to 2015 with a one-year extension. Investigators designed a comprehensive framework for improving STEM education in the rural Black Belt, the region surrounding the small, four-year university where most of the students call home. The framework contains four dimensions: motivating students, experiencing STEM, engaging in STEM, and scaffolding student learning. All components of Project Engage are designed to address one of the four dimensions of the framework in an effort to better prepare rural students to succeed in college and enter the STEM workforce. The activities and data results presented in this book evolve from the first grant award (2012-2015). However, a second award was made in 2016 (Project Engage 2.0) with additional components. With data from the first award, the second grant proposal was revised to incorporate needed changes including adding more of a focus on academic support (tutoring, supplemental instruction and a STEM resource room) as well as STEM Clubs (robotics, app design, and 3-D printing) to maintain the engagement of the STEM undergraduates until degree completion.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Project Engage: A comprehensive, capacity-building program that provides strategic mentoring, career exploration, as well as knowledge and skills to prepare undergraduate STEM majors, specifically minority students from rural areas for future STEM careers.

STEM Experiences: Knowledge and skills that you gain through the act of participating in STEM-related activities.

Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program: A U. S. Department of Education grant program designed to improve STEM education at predominantly minority institutions of higher education and to increase the participation of underrepresented ethnic minorities, particularly minority women, in scientific and technological careers.

Motivation: The desire to pursue an undergraduate degree in STEM or a STEM profession.

Guided Career Exploration: Activities that inform undergraduate STEM majors of their career choices in STEM.

Educational Preparation: Knowledge and skills acquired by K-12 students that equips them for a college career in STEM.

Strategic Mentoring: A comprehensive plan for providing academic, social, and professional guidance to undergraduate college students.

STEM Role Models: Professionals in the STEM workforce who K-12 and undergraduate students can aspire to be like.

STEM Engagement: The act of being emotionally or physically involved with a STEM activity.

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