Written by JT Stoner, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16 Sacramento State University Commit to Study
Why I believe K-12 STEM outreach is important for increasing interest and success in STEM
Halfway through my senior year of college, I decided that I wanted to take a year off before continuing my education, but I was not exactly sure what I wanted to do. Then my best friend, who is also now an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA), introduced me to the organization and its overarching goal to alleviate poverty. At the time, I was actively involved in Alpha Phi Omega (APO), which is a national co-ed service fraternity. I learned that I really enjoy doing direct service, but I always felt like there was potentially something more that I could do. Therefore, I chose to serve with AmeriCorps because I wanted to challenge myself and do something that could facilitate larger, societal change.
With my desire to give back to the community and interest in all things science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), I decided it would be best for me to apply to AmeriCorps VISTA positions that have a specific focus on promoting student aspirations and success in STEM fields. STEM student success, specifically among underrepresented groups of people (e.g. racial/ethnic minorities, women in STEM, low-income and/or first-generation students) is important to me because I can relate to the hardships certain racial/ethnic groups face when pursing higher education, particularly those who are first-generation students and come from low-income backgrounds. It is not surprising that of these individuals who are 1) fortunate enough to attend college and 2) have aspirations for degrees and careers in STEM, many become discouraged by the rigorous curriculum and/or potential need for remediation. Consequently, they may decide to switch majors or even drop out of college all together. As a California State University STEM VISTA, I have the opportunity to do something about this. Therefore, I serve because everyone deserves the opportunity to go to college and to gain the tools they need to graduate and succeed.
For the past two and a half months, I have been working at California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) as part of the Center for Science and Math Success to promote K-12 student aspirations to degrees and careers in STEM. So far, I have been compiling information to write a report that proposes the need for consolidating existing K-12 STEM outreach efforts and suggesting potential collaborations in order to ensure that CSUS is providing the most effective outreach programs. As part of my research, I am conducting a survey to see what faculty in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at CSUS are currently doing in the way of K-12 STEM outreach. I have also been researching what CSUS students, faculty, and staff have done in the past. In order to create an even more extensive list of K-12 STEM outreach possibilities, I am also conducting an inventory of K-12 STEM outreach across the other 22 California State University institutions. Ultimately, this also provides us with an opportunity to assess what resources CSUS has the potential to offer and brainstorm new and innovative K-12 STEM outreach initiatives.
Recently, I have also been assessing which community partners and school sites have the greatest need for the resources CSUS is willing and able to provide. Therefore, I have been researching from which high schools CSUS enrolls the most students, specifically underrepresented minorities who want to pursue degrees and careers in STEM fields. We have even considered building partnerships with schools within the recently government-designated Sacramento Promise Zone, which is a region of Sacramento that encompasses some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in terms of socioeconomic status, job and/or educational attainment, and health outcome. Once we have established which schools display the most need and at which schools we could reasonably affect the most change, we hope to determine what exactly faculty and students of these schools want and/or need in order to maintain interest and ensure student success in STEM fields (e.g. development of a better curriculum, more teacher training, and/or more student resources).
In addition to K-12 STEM research, I have been working alongside fellow VISTA Kayla Montañez to establish the CSUS Commit to Study (C2S) Initiative. Right now the C2S Initative is equivalent to a media campaign with “Commit to Study” banners placed at both entrances to Sequoia Hall, which houses the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. There are also posters on each floor of the building next to either the elevators or water foundations, which outline eight study habits that all committed science and math students do and that are thought to improve their success in STEM fields. Kayla is also in charge of developing an incentivized C2S workshop series that prompts CSUS students to develop a growth mindset, to better manage their time in and out of classes, and to build a stronger set of study skills. To increase awareness of the C2S Initiative at CSUS and encourage student engagement, Kayla and I are creating Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. In the future, we hope that the C2S Initiatve is something that we can bring to our K-12 partners. We imagine that if students learn to implement these study skills earlier, they will transition more smoothly into college and will be better prepared to pursue their respective STEM degrees. Specifically, we hope that more students will not only achieve passing grades in their introductory STEM courses, but will excel. We believe these achievements will leave students feeling empowered and will shorten their time to degree.
As I reflect on my progress in the last few months, I am happy to have accepted this position as an AmeriCorps VISTA. In the future, I look forward to continuing my inventory of K-12 STEM outreach, contacting our existing community partners and schools to assess what they need/would like to see, and planning CSUS campus visits for K-12 students during the spring semester. What excites me most about my work is the ability to inspire current STEM majors to reach back into their communities to promote interest and help younger generations succeed in STEM.