Students are leaving STEM majors at an alarmingly fast rate. Less than half of first-year students who enter in STEM majors will go on to graduate with a STEM degree, according to research published in The Journal of Science Education and Technology. Students from underrepresented communities are even less likely to graduate with their STEM degrees.
Undergraduate students in the program develop skills that will make them successful while in school and as they pursue post-graduation opportunities. The National Science & Technology Medals Foundation is committed to supporting STEM students from underrepresented communities, and inSTEM is the Foundation’s next step in furthering its mission to inspire the next generation of great scientists and technologists.
inSTEM is an auxiliary support network of and for undergraduate students from underrepresented communities who study STEM.
The program has three objectives for students pursuing undergraduate degrees in STEM:
- Build a community that prompts students to address the benefits and challenges of being a member of an underrepresented community in STEM
- Offer professional development for undergraduates seeking experience relevant to their majors
- Create opportunities for students to connect with mentors on campus and role models off campus to whom they can turn to for guidance.
Effective mentorship has proven successful in retaining students in STEM programs, especially those from underrepresented communities. A study in the International Journal for STEM Education found that mentorship is particularly important for students subject to a “stereotype threat,” which causes students from underrepresented communities to feel inadequate when compared to their peers. Another study conducted by Indiana and Purdue universities showed that women of color feel an increased sense of belonging when they are introduced to role models who look like them. inSTEM offers an invaluable opportunity for all students to connect with their peers and faculty while feeling supported in an environment that can be subject to a lack of diversity and inclusion. Scholars will grow in a space that’s safe for them and have the opportunity to make lasting relationships with members in their community.
inSTEM offers four years of programming; each has a theme based on the Scholars’ needs for the current school year. Scholars are eligible to be inSTEM participants for all four years and may enroll at any time. The Scholars’ status as a first-, second-, third-, or fourth-year student will determine which year of the program they will enter. The pilot program will launch only the first-year cohort, and the other three will roll out subsequently, one year at a time. inSTEM’s pilot program at Howard University will run from August 2020 until May 2021.
Each cohort includes 15 inSTEM Scholars and one Coach, a STEM professor or an established graduate student at the institution. STEM Experts will visit cohorts to lead workshops and provide insights about the greater STEM community.
The NSTMF has identified three goals for the inSTEM program. These wide-reaching goals guide all aspects of inSTEM, from the type of professional development opportunities offered to the guided discussions that inSTEM Scholars will have together.
1. Scholars will stay in their STEM program or major. Substantial statistical and empirical evidence shows that mentorship can help students from underrepresented communities in STEM stay in their majors. inSTEM’s primary goal is to make its Scholars feel comfortable in their STEM communities.
2. Scholars will hone skills that help them succeed in college and their careers. Certain skills are essential to success in STEM, both while in college and after graduation. Through professional development workshops, inSTEM will provide opportunities for its Scholars to acquire those skills, like how to network, land a position in a lab, and write a grant. These workshops will be stepping stones to the Scholars’ first steps in the STEM community.
3. Scholars will feel comfortable reaching out to Experts, met through the program, with professional or personal questions related to their STEM journey. A significant pillar of the program, Scholars will have the unique opportunity to interact with STEM Experts, including Laureates of the National Medal of Science and National Medal of Technology & Innovation and other top minds in the community. These members of the NSTMF’s network of STEM luminaries will facilitate professional development workshops, share their stories of overcoming adversity, and offer an ear to the Scholars. We hope to increase the likelihood of the Scholars finding a STEM Expert with whom they connect by offering an array of experts.
The inSTEM Scholar profile
- First-year student
- Intends to graduate with a STEM major
- Interested in joining their STEM community
- Identifies as a member of an underrepresented group, including but not limited to: woman, non-binary, trans, intersex, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, asexual, first-generation, disabled, Black, Brown, and Indigenous
- Willing to learn and share with their cohort
- A minimum 2.8 weighted GPA
inSTEM Scholar Benefits and Obligations
In addition to personal and professional development benefits, inSTEM Scholars will be eligible for:
- A stipend to be used for books and required school supplies.
- A Student Success Kit that includes equipment they need to participate in this program from a distance, like a headset and a microphone or other distance learning materials
Scholars will be expected to:
- Adhere to a code of conduct that creates a safer space for everyone to share and learn. Participants who do not comply with the guidelines for creating safer spaces for Scholars will be removed from the program immediately.
- Attend eight meetings per semester and schedule at least one 30-minute mentor session with their Coach per semester.
- Reach out to at least two STEM experts in their auxiliary network by the end of each term to build their professional network.