Promoting the STEM Pipeline and Enhancing STEM Career Awareness Through Participation in Authentic Research Activities (RTP, Diversity)
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American Society for Engineering Education, 2018. To promote the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) pipeline and enhance the participation of students who have been historically underrepresented in STEM fields in the U.S, a team of faculty investigators with diverse expertise in STEM, education, public health and medicine have been working collaboratively on a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded STEM education project entitled the MENTORS (Model Education Networks To Optimize Rural Science) Project. In this paper, we describe the project activities and present the findings of a study aimed at exploring the responses of high school students to research experiences conducted on the university campus during the summer of 2017. Using a qualitative case study design, the study explored the impact of authentic, hands-on, hypothesis-driven, summer research experiences on career aspiration of nine students. Participants were selected from applicants at two high schools located in the southwestern region of the U.S., in counties where the residents have among the lowest socioeconomic status and educational attainment in the U.S. The majority of participants were Hispanic and female. Laboratory assignments were based on the specified interests expressed by the students, who worked with individual faculty and laboratory personnel on original research projects. Data were collected using pre- and post-experience surveys and student reflections. Findings indicate that students enjoyed working in the laboratory settings with the researchers and participating in authentic research activities. Their career goals in STEM and health-related professions were reinforced and strengthened as a result of their participation.