Project Spotlight: Increasing Minority Participation in STEM

Project Spotlight: Increasing Minority Participation in STEM

Posted on April 27, 2017

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By Stephanie Blair, Communications Intern

Funded by a grant obtained through TRI, the Oregon Alliance for Minority Participation (OR AMP) STEM Scholars Program works on Western’s campus to support traditionally underrepresented minority students in STEM programs; that is, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs. I sat down with Dr. Flatt to learn more and discovered the wealth of opportunities that the program has to offer.

“Traditionally, minority participation in STEM programs is very low compared to the standard minority population on our campus,” said Dr. Patricia Flatt, one of the project managers for Western’s STEM Scholars Program. “It’s really not representative of our student population, student body as a whole, or the diversity that is present in Oregon at this time.”

OR AMP, which began at Oregon State University, is modeled after the successful Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program. Both programs are “dedicated to increasing the number of traditionally underrepresented students successfully completing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) baccalaureate degree programs,” as described on OSU's website.

"[OSU] is sort of like our parent institution and we're the child institution ... so they've really been helping us develop programming on our own campus," explained Flatt.

This programming begins with students immediately after their acceptance into Western Oregon. Incoming freshmen of color who have indicated interest in the STEM fields are invited to partake in the Summer Bridge Program. Over the course of the 10-day program, the students participate in team building exercises and become acquainted with Western’s campus.

“We try to reach out to them, let them know what programming is available for them on campus, and help introduce them to things like tutoring, advising, all of the networking things—like the Portal system and how to use Moodle—what expect during classes, how faculty use syllabi, and things like that,” said Flatt.

The program also allows for the students to bond as a cohort and with professors before their first year of college begins through team building exercises, the OSU Challenge Course, and a rafting trip on the Mackenzie River.

However, the focus of the program turns from recruitment to retention once school is in session.

“We’ve also seen that there’s lower retention of underrepresented minority students in the STEM fields,” said Flatt. “This can possibly be attributed, in part, to not having a diverse population of students in the STEM fields to make them feel comfortable and welcome, like they can be successful in our programming.”

In an effort to help students find success during their time at Western, the STEM Scholars program offers a number of services, including peer mentoring.

“We have a peer mentoring program so that we can pair students with upper division students that are going through our programs right now,” said Flatt. “There’s a real self-efficacy that students see when they see a student that’s like themselves that’s succeeding in those fields. So, we really like to connect with them so that they can develop more of their own self-efficacy and confidence that they need to be successful.”

Peer mentors in the program serve as not only as role models, but also advisors. Mentors meet with mentees to do activities, discuss what the mentee needs, recommend resources, and even provide tutoring for lower-level classes.

Another component of the program designed to motivate students to complete their STEM degrees is the Next Jump. 

“We want our incoming students to be successful in their coursework, and part of being successful is having intrinsic motivation for your classes. I think part of that is really seeing what you can do with your degree, so we’re trying to connect students with their career paths,” explained Flatt. “We’ve brought in a lot of industry speakers to campus, as well as doing field trips. Like, recently, we had a field trip to HP where they got to go and see both how computer science and chemistry really fit into career positions at HP. The HP personnel spent a lot of time talking about what they want to see on resumés, how you should interview, and those aspects, as well—kind of preparing them for what they should be doing now to get their resumés up to speed.”

Flatt mentioned that, in the weeks following our interview, the program students would be taking fields trips to Pacific University and Oregon State University to learn about their graduate-level STEM programs.

These excursions are also helpful to the final purpose of the program: helping students not only become interested in graduate programs, but also build strong applications for such programs.

“We have workshops on campus for skill-building and things like doing summer internships—how do you find those, how do you apply for them, then should you be looking for those, that they exist…” Flatt laughed. “I think sometimes students come in and think all I need to do to finish my degree is the coursework that’s required in the major, and, oftentimes, companies and businesses out there are looking for somebody that has experience. So, looking for internships and having these career experiences … can be really helpful in preparing you for another job when you graduate.”

Looking to the future, the program plans to expand their relationships with the families of students.

“A lot of URM [underrepresented minority] students are first generation, as well, and so their families don’t necessarily know exactly how to support their student while their making the transition to college or what to expect their student to be going through during the college experience,” said Flatt. “It’s helpful to try and connect with the families as well, and you just feel that continuity and give them more support.”

For more information about the OR AMP STEM Scholars Program, visit the WOU STEM homepage.


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