STEM Central has three goals and objectives that include:
* Engage middle school students directly in STEM careers by having them meet role models in those careers and learn firsthand what the careers entail.
* Help students to create the parent- and peer-friendly messages about STEM career opportunities and the pathways leading to them.
* Develop networks of minority and low-income families to enable sharing and discussion of STEM career choices by implementing a grassroots outreach effort.
The STEM Central activities designed to meet these objectives include the following:
* Replication of Women in Science conference and introduction of a male conference counterpart
* Development of a Career Mentor Group of business members, higher education faculty, college and high school students
* Collaboration with community groups to identify realistic avenues to reach low-income and minority parents with the STEM career information
* Creation of parent- and student-friendly STEM career information in various formats
* Establishment of a STEM Central web site
* Connection to broader events to disseminate STEM career information
The overarching implementation strategies will include adaptation of specific plans depending on school districts’ needs and constraints, leveraging existing resources from Network partners and beyond, and coordination and sharing of STEM career information.
Research shows that by the time students are thirteen or fourteen years old, although they probably have not selected a career goal yet, they have decided what they do NOT want to pursue for a certain career (Extraordinary Women Engineers Project, 2007). Minority and low-income students face additional obstacles to STEM careers such as a lack of role models, low expectations and limited parental support (Astin & Astin, 1992). Reaching minority and low-income parents, even though they believe education is the ticket to economic independence and stability, is challenging at best (Goldberg and Gallimore, 1992; Lareau & Shumar, 1996; Olsen & Fuller, 1998).
From an employer’s point of view, if we are to begin to address the lack of interest or abilities of college students regarding STEM, we need to meet this issue head-on at the middle school level.
Engage Students in STEM Careers
Each phase of the STEM Central plan draws upon the expertise within the region and collaboration among various stakeholders. To engage middle school students in STEM careers, the successful Worcester Women in Science (WIS) Conference will be replicated in three additional areas: North Central, Blackstone Valley and the Eastern part of the region, impacting a total of 675 middle school students per year from 22 middle schools. Through demonstrations and group activities at the conference, the interactive workshopsshow the studentshow science is used in the workplace. The presentersexplain different entrylevels to their careers, provide tips on courses of study and discuss ways to prepare and train for their professions. In describing their professions, presenters are explicit about the 21st century skills needed in their careers, such as team work, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation, communication and collaboration during their time with the students.
To address minority middle school boys and their access to role models and information about STEM career choices, the Network, through the Advisory Board, will reach out to the minority male STEM community as well as community outreach groups in Worcester to form a subcommittee to develop an appropriate male version of the WIS conference.
Deepen STEM Career Understanding
Students will have additional opportunities to apply what they learned at the conference as well as to learn more about STEM careers. Research shows that if students have an opportunity to apply what they have already learned to a new situation, the level of learning is deeper and more sustained (Bransford, 2001). The challenge to the student teams involved in this STEM awareness project will be to develop a message about STEM careers for their peers in creative ways---poster, video, performance, etc.
In order to support these teams of students as they continue to learn and apply that knowledge to the project, a network of career mentors will be organized and called the Career Mentor Group. Mentors will be recruited from Network member organizations, businesses and higher education institutions. The Community Engagement Committee at the Colleges of the Worcester Consortium will work with the Network to recruit college students as mentors. Additionally, the Regional Science Resource Center at the University of Massachusetts Medical School maintains the regional and state middle school science fair database of over 500 STEM professionals, many of whom would be likely mentor candidates. Mentors will interact with middle school students in multiple ways: as a resource for firsthand career information, as a support in developing a STEM communication project as described above and as an ongoing contact for career questions and dialogue.
Depending on the specific school and district situation, the implementation of these student team projects will vary. The constraints and demands on urban districts, as opposed to more suburban ones, are vastly different. The Project Director will work closely with individual schools to make the implementation realistic and doable.
Bring STEM Career Information To Parents and the Community At Large
Of paramount importance is bringing STEM career information, including career pathways, to middle school students’ parents, especially to low-income and minority parents. Research has shown that message-delivery for low-income and English as a Second Language (ESL) families needs to be realistic and creative (Drummond, K.V. and Stipek, D. 2004). The model this proposal intends to follow is the same grassroots model similar to a health public awareness campaign would employ to provide information and to change people’s perceptions.The Network will work closely with community groups that have the trust and respect of the target parent audience to establish an effective parent network to disseminate the STEM career information.
While is it critical to reach parents, it is just as important to have the right message that is understandable,compelling and motivating. As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression. Copies of the student-developed informational materials from all schools will be sent to the Network.The Network will select the best career messages, professionally reproduce them and share them with parent groups, at community events and at other schools activities. Teams of students and mentors may present informational material they have designed at parent meetings. Additionally, a newly expanded STEM Central web site, public access and school-based television will be vehicles for the student-generated career messages.The web site will post current opportunities from all Network members for students to explore career options including summer programs, internships, camps, etc.