New beginnings for STEM AP
The program’s administrative team consists entirely of people with backgrounds in STEM. Riley started the program within the biology department three years ago hoping to address some of the inequities in the pursuit of a STEM career, especially the scarcity of undergraduate research opportunities.
Gardner and Allison (Ally) Hunter, a research assistant, are trained as an engineer and a biologist, respectively. They’ve both chosen to use their scientific backgrounds to impact future engineers, scientists and mathematicians as STEM educators. Gardner serves as the program’s director spearheading the day-to-day operations while planning and executing long-term changes to it. Hunter, a doctoral candidate at UMass, will continue to work on the project after graduation as a post-doctoral researcher conducting an extensive longitudinal study using qualitative and quantitative data analyzing the types of contextual variables important in STEM retention.
As an education researcher, McEneaney plans to “document more systematically than [the program] has in the past…the effects of the program, the ways that students in the program are finding it supportive or not, so that as the years go by we can figure out ways to change and strengthen the program.” Additionally, she will be working on the expansion to Holyoke Community College and UMass Boston.
In her career as a high school mathematics and science teacher, McEneaney witnessed the disparities between females and males in the classroom in response to grades, in attitude toward academic achievement and in expressed enthusiasm in the subject, one of many experiences which drove her interest in equity within STEM.
STEM AP program goals
An expanding component of STEM AP is introducing students to the possibilities of a career in teaching, in addition to professional scientific careers. McEneaney and Gardner discussed the importance of high school and college students’ exposure to teachers and professors who are like them, allowing for the students to more easily picture themselves in similar roles.
Additionally, the program hopes to increase their capacity through this grant, including having more research opportunities to meet the increase in participants. STEM AP will be working toward increasing its diversity with students with disabilities and LGBTQ+ students.
“The idea is that if we build an inclusive community of scholars, we want that definition of inclusive to mean everybody feels welcome in STEM,” Hunter said.
This semester, the program has increased their offerings for its first-year students with a course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE). Although there is only one section this semester (focusing on antibiotic resistance), the goal is to have numerous courses in the future with a variety of different topics.
Currently, the program works with approximately 18 faculty members throughout the STEM departments at UMass to place upperclassmen students in research laboratories. According to Hunter, there is a positive correlation between research involvement and retention in STEM.
Coralys Galindez, a freshman microbiology student in the program, conducted research on campus over the summer.
“This summer, I had the privilege to work alongside Ally Hunter on her research developing case studies that help students learn class topics by applying them to real-life situations,” Galindez said. “During my time in the lab, I acquired a lot of knowledge on how to use lab equipment, plating cell cultures techniques, and many other useful skills. Most importantly, this program allowed me to gain experience as an undergraduate in real-life research, which is very valuable in today's competitive environment. Moreover, I got the chance to meet a lot of new people who share the same interest as me and strive to be successful in their respective STEM fields.”
STEM AP’s definition of success consists of students staying within a STEM major, not necessarily the one the students originally chose. Hunter’s research will consider the science, technology, engineering and mathematics watershed, which acknowledges the numerous ways in which students may move around within STEM, including switching majors and taking time off from school before returning to the field.
Rashida Krigger, assistant to the director, spoke about the impact of STEM AP. After excelling at Springfield Technical Community College , she transferred to UMass. With the University’s limited resources for transfer students, Krigger did not flourish as she had at STCC and ultimately left school.
“Before I knew about STEM AP there was nothing that was going to make [coming back] better than last time,” Krigger says.
Now, working for the program, Krigger is seeing how the program has “helped other undergrads in STEM have a good trajectory, have the research experience they need and…gotten them to the place that I saw myself being in had I had this support system.
“I see myself in all of our students and I’m so happy to be providing the things that I lacked for them. And I’m really excited now for when I do go back to have this resource, to have this community and know where I’m going,” she said.