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Higher Education: Roles for the Recruitment, Retention and Renewal of Minority Students in Math/Science/Technology Programs

Written testimony of Dr. David W. Seybert
Duquesne University

Before a Special Session of the Education Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on 13 April 2010, at Duquesne University


Introduction

Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to testify in front of the Committee on this day. My name is Dr. David Seybert and I am the Dean of Duquesne University’s Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences. I am very pleased the Committee selected Duquesne for the location of its public hearing on STEM. Having the chance to serve as a witness in the 4th panel has afforded me the opportunity to reflect upon the statements of the witnesses who spoke before me and am pleased to hear that a variety of stakeholders have an interest in advancing initiatives relative to STEM including but not limited to education and workforce development.

A diverse scientific workforce is a healthy and vibrant scientific workforce. Although the absolute numbers of minority students earning their bachelor’s degrees in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields has increased modestly in recent years, the proportion of these degrees is still well below the representation of these minorities in the US college age population. We see before us a compelling national need for the recruitment and retention of greater numbers of underrepresented populations into the STEM disciplines. In March of 2010, the Research and Education Subcommittee of the US House Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing to identify institutional and cultural barriers that were preventing a broadening of the students pursuing degrees in the STEM disciplines. Critical elements for success that were discussed included scholarships, industry-sponsored internships, effective mentors, and earlier exposure in the college curriculum to science and technology emphasizing real world STEM applications.

At Duquesne University, we have developed intentional programs and multi-faceted partnerships to enhance the recruitment and retention of minority students in the STEM disciplines. We have placed a priority on programs that: maintain interest in science throughout the middle school and high school years, including the provision of summer research experiences for minority high school students to engage in scientific research; ensure that students are being taught by STEM teachers conversant with not only the latest content knowledge but also experienced and trained in the use of the most current curriculum-based innovations in STEM education; involve minority undergraduate STEM majors in meaningful scientific research experiences early and throughout the undergraduate curriculum; provide financial support in the form of scholarships and fellowships to recruit and retain minority students in the STEM disciplines; provide close mentoring of students to help them achieve academic success and gain confidence in their ability to become scientific professionals; and address the need for more successful minority faculty role models in the academy.

Described below are several initiatives that Duquesne University offers as examples of initiatives intended to address this critical state-wide and national need.

Project SEED

In 1968, the American Chemical Society (ACS) established a program called Project SEED (Summer Experiences for the Economically Disadvantaged). This program was intended to offer unique opportunities for economically disadvantaged high school students to participate in a summer research experience with a scientist in a laboratory setting. Students are provided a stipend for their 10-week participation. This financial support is critical, as a lack of this support would likely force these students to seek other means of summer employment to assist with family finances. Students participating in this program have the opportunity to work in a research setting with faculty mentors as well as with undergraduate and doctoral research students in the research laboratory. They have the experience of becoming part of a research team and working with student role models close to their own age, which provides encouragement, instills confidence, and enables the Project SEED students to visualize themselves as successful undergraduate and graduate students in these curricula.

Individual programs follow strict ACS guidelines and provide an 8- to 10-week laboratory experience where the students, guided by a mentor, work on their own research project. Students are required to write a detailed scientific report. The Duquesne program requires the SEED students to present their work as a poster as part of the Duquesne Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium at the end of July as well as at a subsequent national ACS meeting.

The Project SEED Program at Duquesne University, initiated in 2004 and overseen by Dr. Jennifer Aitken, is one of six in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The ACS Pittsburgh Section Project SEED Committee, which encompasses the programs at Duquesne and Washington and Jefferson College, was recognized with the ACS ChemLuminary Award as the outstanding Project SEED program in 2007. Since its inception in 2004, the Duquesne Project SEED has served a total of 25 high school students, some of who have participated for more than 1 summer. Of these, 52% were students of color.

The Bayer Scholars Program

In response to the ongoing recognized need of a more diverse scientific workforce, Bayer Corporation and Duquesne University collaboratively established in 2009 the Bayer Scholars Program. Under this program, freshmen in the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences who have chosen to major in chemistry or in environmental science with a chemistry track emphasis are selected each year, focusing on women and minority students interested in careers in the chemical sciences. Duquesne identifies potential candidates early in the freshman admissions process and uses the offer of scholarship support to build diversity in the Bayer School.

The University accepts four (4) freshmen per year over a five-year period and provides scholarship funding to support each of the 20 select students through the graduation of the final cohort in May 2018. During their freshman and sophomore years, students serve as laboratory research assistants and participate in undergraduate research projects at Duquesne University working under selected faculty research mentors.

Additionally, they are exposed to the corporate scientific community through visits to the Bayer MaterialScience Pittsburgh campus and mentoring by Bayer professionals. In the summers following their freshman and sophomore years, the students are supported for 10-week research experiences in the Duquesne Summer Undergraduate Research Program. In addition to this early intensive exposure to scientific research, the summer program also requires that the students participate in an ethics forum as well as community outreach activities. Qualifying students are then assigned to intensive summer internships at Bayer in the summers following their junior and senior years, where participants are immersed in Bayer’s unique corporate culture.

Student continuance in the program is contingent upon meeting academic and professional requirements. Duquesne faculty and staff, as well as diversity-related structures such as the University’s Offices of Multicultural Affairs and Special Student Services, and the Bayer School’s Women in Science organization, assist students in meeting these high standards. Early exposure and sustained involvement in both basic and applied research environments are critical elements. Beginning in their freshman year, these students also regularly meet with the Bayer Scholar mentor, a faculty member from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, who provides close advisement in areas such as academic success, selection of research topics, and networking opportunities.

This innovative scholars program: expands opportunities for women and minorities in the sciences at Duquesne; provides Bayer access to a diverse pool of exceptionally qualified students through the course of their academic career; incorporates the Bayer work ethic and values into a new generation of scientists; provides Duquesne’s students with broad experience in both basic and applied research; matches Bayer mentors with Duquesne students through the course of their internships; and enables Bayer to identify potential employees from among the scholar/interns as they work alongside Bayer personnel.

NSF-REU research program

In 2010, Dr. Jeffry Evanseck received notification of the renewal of Duquesne’s successful Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program supported by the National Science Foundation. The objective of this program is to deliver a quality undergraduate research experience by providing research opportunities to students and faculty members from institutions that would otherwise not have access to or be able to provide these experiences. The academic partners include faculty and students from historically black colleges (HBC), and Louis Stokes alliances for minority participation programs (LSAMP), institutions. In 2007, faculty from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Duquesne forged strategic partnerships with faculty from several HBCU and LSAMP institutions. By providing minority students from these institutions with the opportunity to engage in cutting-edge research at Duquesne during the summer months coupled with continuation of that research at their home institutions, these students realize a greater probability of successful completion of their research experiences, thereby gaining confidence in their abilities to pursue graduate studies in the STEM disciplines.

In 2009, a pilot program established a partnership involving Duquesne with a faculty member and student from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. This successful pilot has led to an extended and expanded partnership between our two institutions over the next three years of this NSF-REU program. Each summer, two faculty members from Lincoln University will participate in the summer research program at Duquesne with their students. Our intent is that these research experiences will facilitate the faculty members’ successful transition of these collaborative projects back to their home institutions, encouraging them to apply for and garner additional support, and enabling broader impact and involvement of greater numbers of minority students in STEM research at Lincoln.

Teacher Education and STEM at Duquesne

One action that would be especially effective in addressing critical problems of U.S. precollege STEM education would be the development of teacher education programs that are specifically designed to prepare a new generation of teachers who are “generative thinkers” for 21st century classrooms. Ball (2009) used the term generativity to refer to ”a teachers’ ability to continually add to their understanding of effective teaching by connecting their [STEM] content area knowledge and their personal experiential knowledge with the knowledge they gain from the students in their classrooms in order to produce or originate new knowledge that is useful to them in solving pedagogical problems in their classrooms and in meeting the educational needs of their students.” Building on Ball’s Model of Generative Change, Duquesne University has developed a professional development program that is designed to model generativity for its teachers and to support teachers’ growth toward becoming generative thinkers so these teachers will subsequently use generative thinking in their instruction within their own classrooms. Ball’s Model of Generative Change is based on a decade long, longitudinal study of designing professional development that develops not only STEM content knowledge, but also teachers’ metacognitive awareness about the role of language learning in STEM education, as well as developing a sense of agency, advocacy, efficacy, personal voice, and generative thinking skills to direct their continued development as teachers within their culturally and linguistically complex classrooms. Ball’s model develops teachers who are generative thinking agents of change for STEM classrooms. Once teachers are exposed to a generative model in their teacher education programs, they are motivated to use the same tools demonstrated in the program to shape their own students’ development as problem solvers and as generative thinkers as well.

Teachers modeling this process subsequently use pedagogical tools for reflection, introspection, and critique within their culturally and linguistically complex classrooms to create dynamic learning communities in which STEM educators facilitate generative thinking, problem solving, and high achievement in their classrooms.

Given our nation’s rapidly changing demographic patterns toward more diverse STEM classrooms, we need to re-conceptualize current models of professional development so that we place the preparation of teachers to teach STEM content in culturally and linguistically complex classrooms at the center, rather than at the margins, of current reform efforts in teacher education. It is essential that we begin this task as soon as possible in order to prepare our precollege students for a 21st century technologically advanced economy.

Collaborative Partnerships at Duquesne

If we are to positively impact the future recruitment of minority students into the STEM fields, we must pay careful attention to the education and ongoing professional development of high school STEM teachers. A critical element in achieving this goal is the creation of effective and sustainable partnerships in colleges and universities between schools or departments of education and the corresponding academic units representing the basic STEM disciplines. Collaboration between these partnerships and the K-12 STEM educational community leads to continued enhancement of the design and delivery of the STEM curricula in our public and private schools, with special attention to those activities and strategies which engage minority students. One such initiative is a recent proposal submitted jointly between the School of Education and the School of Natural Sciences at Duquesne to a national foundation for the support of high school science teacher professional development. This program will target implementation of more inquiry-based methods into the high school STEM curriculum, both in laboratory and non-laboratory contexts.

Another urgent need is highlighted by reports that emphasize the need for underrepresented minority students to be taught by faculty members of their own race. This enables them to believe that academic careers in science and engineering are possible and further provides mentors and role models to whom they can closely relate while they pursue their degrees. This gap calls us to mount intentional and systematic efforts to encourage and nurture programs that attract, support, and mentor minority students in ways that enable them to aspire to and achieve faculty positions in colleges and universities. A nascent collaborative program between the School of Education and the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, the Scholar Teacher Preparation Program (STePP), represents a revolutionary interdisciplinary initiative with the goal of uniquely preparing future faculty in the STEM disciplines to be excellent scholars and excellent teachers. STePP graduates will earn both a Master of Science Degree in Educational Studies and PhD in a STEM discipline. This program targets the preparation of minority future faculty in these disciplines to be excellent scholars and excellent educators. Duquesne STePP graduates will be highly competitive for faculty positions adding to the growing prominence of the program and its ability to attract applicants of diversity and excellence.

The STePP program will: intentionally increase the diversity of the Duquesne University student body overall, and specifically in the STEM disciplines; uniquely prepare minority students recruited for careers as scientists and science educators; establish a design-based research model for preparing and mentoring minority STEM faculty in order to improve the quality of science education; and systematically and intentionally increase the diversity of excellent faculty in STEM disciplines in the United States.

Conclusion

If we are to realize our common goals of assuring a more diverse STEM workforce in our commonwealth and in our nation, it is imperative that we support and foster appropriate partnerships. Within academic institutions, these partnerships must engage professional educators from schools and departments of education who are expert in teacher training and innovative curriculum design with appropriate content-expert faculty from the STEM disciplines who share the vision of a need for enhancing the diversity of the STEM disciplines. These multi-disciplinary teams must also integrate staff from offices of multicultural affairs who can advise on specific needs and concerns of minority students. Our collective success also requires partnerships that include multiple academic institutions, the state and federal governments, public and private school systems, corporate and business entities that rely upon the STEM disciplines, professional scientific societies, and the private foundation community. It is only through the intentional formation and sustained support of partnership programs that we can expect to achieve the diverse and talented STEM workforce that our commonwealth and our nation need in the technologically competitive global economy of the 21st century. Again, thank you to all members of the Committee for granting me the opportunity to testify on this issue.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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