The positive impacts of undergraduate research on student confidence and awareness of careers in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields are well-known.1,2 Institutions are integrating student research in course curricula, mentored projects, and internships; yet, representation in STEM careers remains low among African American, Hispanic, American Indian, and Pacific Island populations. The AAAS Research Competitiveness Program has worked with universities and organizations across the U.S. for over 20 years, providing independent assessment and impact analysis of STEM programs and initiatives, with a significant emphasis on student training and research. At the Emerging Researchers National Conference in STEM 2019 (February 21-23, 2019 at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC), Dr. Irene Aninye, RCP Senior Program Associate, led a session focused on “Leveraging Student Research Experiences to Bridge the Gap for Underrepresented Minorities in STEM Careers.” Based on data and observations from RCP’s programmatic assessment work, this workshop focused on four areas with the potential to uniquely address this gap in the STEM career pathway: (1) broadening access and participation of URMs in undergraduate research experiences, (2) developing and training mentors, (3) addressing student preparedness for the rigor of STEM disciplines, and (4) institutionalizing support and resources for undergraduate research efforts.
While this breakout session originally targeted university faculty, the topic drew students and program administrators alike to the room. Community colleges, research-intensive, primarily undergraduate, and minority-serving institutions all had representation, echoing the wide-spread concern and desire to tackle this complex issue in STEM capacity building. Participants engaged in a SWOT activity to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to their efforts in promoting undergraduate research at their local institutions. Small groups were formed based on interest in one of the four topic areas. After setting the stage by presenting national trends in the STEM pathway and RCP insights on the topic, the workshop emphasized brainstorming and resource sharing between individuals and groups in the room. As strengths identified by one group were shared with the room, they became potential solutions or strategies for other participants to address a weakness or need identified in their discussions. Even though the seats were full, conference attendees continued to enter and join the discussion. This is an important conversation in the scientific community, and everyone – from the emerging student to the mid-career faculty to the senior administrator – has something to learn, something to share, and something to gain. At RCP, we fully intend to continue the conversation through our work, being a force for science that builds research and STEM capacity in the U.S. and internationally.
1Hurtado S, et al., 2014.
2Russell SH, 2006.