Effective characteristics of STEM education programs for underrepresented minorities (URMs) lie at the intersection of student-centeredness, community building, and collaborative partnerships, all of which help URM STEM graduate students navigate through roadblocks to degree persistence. STEM education programs have been around since the 1970s. These programs have emerged on many college campuses in a concerted effort to address the historical underrepresentation of minority students in the STEM disciplines at predominantly white institutions (PWIs). STEM education program initiatives range from living learning communities, summer research programs, pre-college programs, bridge/transition programs, visitation programs, and first-year experience programs. Notably, a few successful programs include Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), McNair Program, and Meyerhoff Scholars Program. Typically, such programs offer a variety of contextualized support including mentoring, tutoring, academic advising, research opportunities, professional development, networking opportunities, research grants, travel grants, and more.
The structure of STEM education programs can mean the difference between degree persistence or attrition. This is especially true for African American students who are completing an undergraduate degree and are considering transitioning into a STEM graduate program. However, STEM education programs are not all equal. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Step-Up Program conducted several studies that examined the design, implementation, and impact of STEM education programs. One of its recent studies found that more than 50 administrators of STEM education programs indicated that the success of their program to recruit and retain URMs was largely due to three themes: student-centeredness (building relationships with students both academically and personally), community building (building academic and social support communities on- and off-campus), and collaborative partnerships (cross-campus-departments, institutions, and industry).
One example of a STEM education program that has effectively integrated these three themes is the Mentoring@Purdue Program. M@P program components are aligned with the tenets of student-centeredness, community building, and collaborative partnerships. The M@P program was designed to increase persistence of women and URMs pursuing agricultural life science STEM-based post-baccalaureate degrees in the College of Agriculture at Purdue University. A major goal of M@P is to cultivate an inclusive and diverse culture and climate of academic and social integration, knowledge and skill development, academic achievement and motivation, and advisement activities through its on- and off-campus program components. The on-campus component provides monthly seminars, workshops, peer-to-peer mentoring, and mentoring resources. The M@P quarterly newsletter contains information on mentoring resources, applying to and attending graduate school, highlights the accomplishments of STEM scholars, and connects both STEM students and STEM faculty members. The M@P Summer Scholars Program (SSP) provides students with a scholarship to visit Purdue’s campus for a three-day real-world immersion experience. Through mutually beneficial collaborative partnerships between Purdue and industry organizations, such as John Deere, CHS, and DuPont Pioneer, students have an opportunity to engage with faculty and professionals, explore research opportunities, and attend interactive workshops. M@P is also an official partner of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.
In addition to strengthening the agriculture STEM pipeline between Purdue University and HBCUs, M@P impacts the Purdue community at-large through its workshops, seminars, and programs for students, faculty, and staff. Since its inception, M@P has engaged over 500 students, faculty, and staff at Purdue and more than 1,100 faculty, staff, and students on HBCU partner campuses. The program has conducted more than 26 workshops on issues of diversity and mentoring. It presented research findings at several national conferences, producing more than 30 scholarly products. Through its Annual Invited Lecture Series, M@P has hosted five national mentoring experts including Dr. Renetta Tull, Dr. Angela Byars-Winston, and Dr. Erika Camacho, whose workshops have provided research insights on how to best serve minority students.
With a foundation of student-centeredness, community building, and collaborative partnerships, STEM education programs such as M@P play a significant role in the success of URM undergraduate and graduate students. Not only do programs such as M@P provide quality research and mentoring experiences for minority students, they also expose students to strategies on how to navigate the barriers they will face on PWI campuses. Simply, STEM education programs are critical to help foster a sustained commitment to inclusion and diversity, encourage collaboration between HBCUs and PWIs, and increase the number of URMs pursuing advanced STEM education degrees.
Quintana M. Clark is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education at Purdue University. Under the advisement of Dr. Levon T. Esters, she currently serves as a Graduate Research Assistant for a National Science Foundation project entitled Modeling Agri-Life Sciences through STEM-Integration, Graduate Research Assistant for the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), an initiative used to significantly increase the number of underrepresented minority students persisting to the professoriate; and she serves as the Coordinator of Research Initiatives for Mentoring@Purdue, an initiative aimed at enhancing the quality of graduate education for underrepresented minority students through fostering mentoring relationships between faculty, and underrepresented minority students pursuing graduate degrees in the Purdue University, College of Agriculture.