STEM Education in Rural Areas: From Research to Reality

STEM Education in Rural Areas: From Research to Reality

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6341-9.ch001
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Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is challenged to produce enough graduates to maintain nationwide STEM workforce needs. This chapter discloses the importance of STEM education for developing a more scientifically literate citizenry prepared to face the challenges of an increasingly technological society and meet U.S. workforce demands. An examination of the state of STEM education reveals its current inability to produce enough qualified graduates to meet current and future needs. The researchers propose looking towards rural areas to supply the STEM pipeline running from college to STEM career. In order to capitalize on the rural school population, programs are needed to address the barriers between the rural student and college. This chapter outlines and expounds these barriers as well as introduces Project Engage as one such program determined to prepare rural students from the Alabama Black Belt region, particularly rural minority students, for STEM futures.
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Stem Importance To Society

There has long been a broad consensus that continued U. S. competitiveness in an increasingly global economic environment relies heavily on the adequacy of supply and the quality of the workforce in the STEM fields (National Research Council, 2011; President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2010; U.S. Department of Labor, 2007). The National Academies Gathering Storm committee (National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, 2011) concluded:

A primary driver of the future economy and concomitant creation of jobs will be innovation, largely derived from advances in science and engineering. While only 4 percent of the nation’s workforce is composed of scientists and engineers, this group disproportionately creates jobs for the other 96 percent (National Science Board, 2014).


The State Of Stem Education

Knowledge of STEM is not just required of professional scientists and engineers. It is now required for an increasing number of jobs at all levels. It is a national advantage to have a more diverse STEM pipeline and more STEM literate citizens. However, disconcerting statistics give us good reasons to be concerned about STEM education. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (Schmidt, 2011) reported about 75% of U. S. 8th graders are not proficient in mathematics. U. S. students lag behind highest performing nations on international assessments: only 10% and 12% of 8th graders respectively reached the advanced international benchmark in mathematics and in science in 2015 and the percentages for 4th graders reaching mathematics and science benchmarks were 14% and 16% (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2015).

On top of the overall underperformance in STEM disciplines, there are significant achievement gaps among student population groups. For example, according to statistics from the National Center for Educational Statistics and the NSF Division Resources Statistics (National Research Council, 2011), white, Hispanic, and black students respectively, have a gain of 116 points, 113 points, and 101 points in average mathematics scores from kindergarten to 8th grade. By 5th grade, the gap between white and black students in average mathematics scores was 24 points, and the average score of black 5th grade students was equivalent to the average 3rd grade score of white students. Similar mathematics achievement gaps persist through high school (Ingels, Pratt, Rogers, Siegel, & Stutts, 2004; Riegle-Crumb & Grodsky, 2010).

Key Terms in this Chapter

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.

STEM Pipeline: The flow of students from college STEM majors to professional STEM careers.

Rural Schools: Typically, small schools which are geographically isolated.

Rural Students: Students who attend rural schools. Often characterized by high poverty.

Minority Students: Refers to students who are American Indian, Alaskan Native, Black (not of Hispanic origin), Hispanic, and Pacific Islander. For this study, minority students are predominantly Black, not of Hispanic origin.

Underrepresented Groups: Refers to populations who are not represented in STEM professions in proportions equal to White STEM workers. This term typically refers to minority groups, but may also refer to females.

Black Belt: A region stretching from Texas to Virginia with rich fertile black soil. This region is characterized by high poverty, low levels of educational attainment, and few economic opportunities.

Underfunded: Describes the low financial expenditure per student in rural schools.

Project Engage: A comprehensive, capacity-building program which 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.

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