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"It was these experiences that led me to fully appreciate the tremendous opportunity and training that I was given by my school and Samuel Ready."

– Samuel Ready Scholarship Alumna

Isis Cabassa (Samuel Ready Scholar alumna and Bryn Mawr School '15) is featured in the US News And World Report article shown below about female minorities in STEM. She is doing great in her first year in the STEM BUILD program at UMBC.
Universities Collaborate to Attract Females, Other Minorities to STEM
The National STEM Collaborative plans to boost diversity in science, technology, engineering and math at colleges and universities.

Victoria Baskerville, right, and BUILD Training Program colleague Isis Cabassa prepare dilutions in their SCI 101L class on Sept. 15, 2015, at University of Maryland Baltimore County.

By Amy Golod | Dec. 15, 2015

Victoria Baskerville, a first-year student majoring in biological sciences at the University of Maryland—Baltimore County, recently ran her final experiment in Science 101L, an interdisciplinary laboratory-intensive course. She and her lab partners had collected water samples from various sources on campus, tested them for purity and compared the results to their control, distilled water.

"One of the things that we have to do is a final project where we get to actually put together our own experiment for the first time, rather than following a protocol," says Baskerville, 18. "That's really interesting to, for the first time, have a university lab, have the materials, and, in groups, put together and conduct our own experiment from start to finish."

Baskerville is one of 20 BUILD Training Program Trainees as part of STEM BUILD at UMBC, an undergraduate research initiative and research study, funded by the National Institutes of Health. In its first year at the university, it looks at how to increase the diversity among students who intend to pursue undergraduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

"One of the things that I believe in and wanted to accomplish here is a program that takes what's best out of [the university's] scholars programs and move more toward the middle of the learning curve," says William LaCourse, dean of the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences and principal investigator of STEM BUILD at UMBC. "We drew from all of the different programs we have on campus, looking at what's effective in teaching, what's effective in advising … What did we learn from the existing programs?"

"We had a vision for something that is scalable, to bring to every student," LaCourse says. "It's designed as a randomly controlled trial, so [some] things will work and other things won't."

One component LaCourse says the STEM BUILD at UMBC leadership team knows works is building a community for the students and in which they can build an identity. The STEM Living Learning Community is a dorm floor designated for BUILD Training Program Trainees and 29 students who are not in the STEM BUILD program but who are interested in STEM. Students have leadership training and access to peer mentors and other programming.

Baskerville says the STEM Living Learning Community experience is one of her favorite aspects of the program since she is part of a community of peers who are pursuing the same majors, taking some of the same classes and are understanding of each other's academic struggles.

In addition, she says she has benefited from some of the program's field trips, such as one to the 2015 SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science) National Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. "We got to look into someone else's culture and something like that really highlights how having different cultural perspectives and backgrounds is so valuable in STEM."

Baskerville's observation mirrors one that institutes and networks on various American university and college campuses are investigating: How do cultural perspectives among women and other minority groups influence their pursuit of STEM studies?

"It's insufficient to simply say, 'All women of color experience STEM in this way,'" says Kimberly A. Scott, founder and executive director of the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology (CGEST) at Arizona State University and an associate professor. "We have to understand how my black femaleness makes an impact on my experiences or a woman's immigration status as a Mexican-American woman impacts her availability to certain resources in, let's say, technology."

There are three main branches of CGEST: the research component; capacity building, which focuses on evidence-based STEM programs for young women, such as CompuGirls; and advocacy.

"We really need to not only circle our wagons and do things collaboratively, but we also need to do it strategically and in an effort to scale, keeping in mind the cultural differences not as negatives, but as points that we can draw on to really make change," Scott says.

The National STEM Collaborative, an advocacy initiative of CGEST, was announced in September at a White House Champions of Change event and it serves as a consortium of 27 university or college members and nonprofit partners dedicated to addressing practices and policies that aim to increase diversity, especially among women from underrepresented communities, within STEM disciplines, focusing on American institutes of higher education. UMBC is one of its members.

Just as universities are looking at how to recruit and retain minority women in STEM at the undergraduate and graduate levels, some are also researching best practices to generate interest in STEM among young girls.

CompuGirls is a CGEST technology program for girls ages 13-18 from under-resourced school districts in Arizona, Colorado, California and New Jersey. It's culturally responsive, meaning that its teaching values students' cultural identities.

Scott says there is sometimes an assumption that African-American and Latina girls are uninterested in STEM, but her research, a 2012 Girl Scout Research Institute report, "Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math," and other reports show these demographics are more interested, in some cases, than their white peers if socioeconomic status is controlled.

A sense of belonging is one factor that affects STEM learning in general, Scott says. Her research has shown that certain influences impact the STEM experiences of young women from underrepresented groups, such as how her work might affect her immediate communities. "If I feel a sense of obligation to something or someone other than myself, then I am more likely going to experience success, so if I know that my failures or my successes are going to benefit, let's say, my community or my family, then I'm probably going to work a little harder," Scott explains.

Through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, CGEST is utilizing surveys and focus groups to look at how African-American teenagers and their parents use technology outside of school, "to understand what are the levers leading African-Americans to become technological innovators," Scott says.

Another organization focusing on diversity within STEM education is the Institute for African-American Mentoring in Computing Sciences (iAAMCS), a member of the National STEM Collaborative. Based at the University of Florida, iAAMCS serves as a national resource for African-American students and faculty.

"The goal of iAAMCS is to increase the number of African-Americans, specifically, but not exclusively, receiving Ph.D. degrees in computing sciences," says Juan Gilbert, director of iAAMCS and the Andrew Banks Family Preeminence Endowed professor and chair of the Computer and Information Science and Engineering department at the University of Florida.

According to Gilbert, African-Americans represent 10 percent to 12 percent of the population and they earn about 10 percent of the computing sciences bachelor's degrees, possibly 3 percent of master's degrees and less than 1 percent of doctoral degrees.

"Many people call this a civil rights issue, and if you look at the importance of computing and technology in our day-to-day lives, and especially if you look at the salaries and the benefits that people have who are in this sector, people are arguing that we need an equitable representation," Gilbert says.

Research shows when looking at the Ph.D.s earned by women and minorities, they tend to be in what are labeled "helping professions," he explains, where there is a connection with people such as in health sciences, medicine, law and education. Among doctorates awarded within the United States and Puerto Rico in 2014, the National Science Foundation reports in "Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities" that there was a greater number received by women than men in the life sciences, social sciences and education as opposed to the physical sciences and engineering.

By contrast, it is thought that STEM disciplines are more about artifacts and phenomena; demonstrating how STEM can also be a part of helping professions is one way of recruiting and retaining women and minorities in STEM disciplines, Gilbert notes.

Students pursuing undergraduate degrees nationwide can take advantage of mentoring from the iAMMCS as can graduate students as they seek out faculty and research positions. "I like to say, 'If they can see it, they can be it,'" Gilbert says. "To meet an African-American with a Ph.D. in computer science is a very daunting task [even] with social media."

Female students can face similar challenges. However, there has been an increase in the number of women hired for faculty positions at the university's Computer and Information Science and Engineering department in roughly the last two years, Gilbert says. He recalls that a female student recently commented that for the first time, all of her classes for her computer science major that semester were taught by women.

"We're breaking down those barriers and the students notice, so you see the encouragement; you see the possibilities," Gilbert says.

Sanethia Thomas, a second-year Ph.D. student in human-centered computing at the University of Florida, works in Gilbert's lab. "There are a lot of people pulling together, trying to get more of us in the field, and it's critical as far as academia," she says. "It's very important that we continue doing research and continue being, I guess you could say, a representation for the future generations to come, and a lot of time we don't see African-American or a lot of female professorships in those fields."

Thomas says it is important to have groups such as iAMMCS and the National Society of Black Engineers and Women in Science and Engineering (she is a member of each organization) so she has a support network even if she is the only woman or African-American student in the classroom.

"Those types of venues, those types of networks are crucial to someone such as myself who is just starting out with a Ph.D. and a STEM career," Thomas says. "All of those places give me the ammunition and give me the confidence and encouragement that I need to carry on when I don't have them in my immediate reach."

Click here to read the article at www.usnews.com

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