Auburn University-based programs become an institute to promote STEM education for the underserved

Building on a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation secured last August, a program based at Auburn University has evolved into a multi-institutional international research effort to promote the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) among underserved students.

Dubbed the Institute for Strengthening STEM Research Pathways and Knowledge, the SPARK STEM Institute aims to engage teachers and professors, social scientists, elementary and higher education administrators, and the community. This commitment will create and evaluate innovative research-based models to improve academic and social experiences to attract, retain and graduate more historically underrepresented students in STEM disciplines, said Overtoun Jenda, Deputy Provost for special projects and initiatives in Auburn.

“The institute’s programs include African Americans, Alaska Native Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, people with disabilities, people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, women and young girls,” Jenda said. “Over the life of this institute, our overarching goal is to increase college and workforce readiness and associate, undergraduate, and graduate degrees in STEM disciplines among these groups .”

The SPARK STEM Institute will award scholarships, stipends and internships to students, Jenda said. “However, our primary effort is to provide mentorship and guidance to encourage and support student success.”

The group of 2022 LSAMP/MAKERS Scholars from Auburn University, Auburn University at Montgomery, and Southern Union Community College reunite with their faculty and former mentors at the SPARK STEM Institute Conference on April 23 . (contribution)

Comprised of eight primary partner institutions in the greater Alabama Black Belt region, the SPARK STEM Institute focuses on multiple areas including state, regional, national, and international goals and participants from government, industry, national and local organizations and more than 60 affiliated institutions collaborating on ongoing projects and initiatives.

“This will be achieved and supported by leveraging funding sources, providing impactful service, involving exceptional and committed faculty and mentors, and developing creative and transformative research-based models to improve academic performance and the social integration in STEM disciplines,” said Jenda.

“This major award from the National Science Foundation and the creation of the SPARK STEM Institute will enable Auburn and collaborating institutions to foster a more diverse workforce while improving educational opportunities for students with disabilities,” said James Weyhenmeyer, Auburn’s vice president for research and economics. development.

The SPARK STEM Institute consists of two informal STEM centers: the SPARK STEM Center for people with disabilities and the SPARK STEM Center for underrepresented minorities and underserved populations. The centers will share the same objectives but will have distinct areas of interest and initiatives.

The institute is administered by the Office of Special Projects and Initiatives and governed by a board of deans and directors. Each center has its own advisory board.

Jenda will be assisted in administering the institute by others at Auburn, including Keri Hesson and Brittany McCullough of the Office of Special Projects and Initiatives, David Shannon of the College of Education, and James Witte of the School of Aviation; as well as Carl Pettis, provost of Alabama State University; and Mohammed Qazi, Associate Dean, Tuskegee University College of Arts and Sciences.

A joint conference was held on April 23 for two SPARK STEM Institute programs: the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Engagement of the Greater Alabama Black Belt Area (GABBR LSAMP) and Making to Advance Knowledge, Excellence and Recognition in STEM (MAKERS). The institute has planned a multi-day symposium involving representatives from each of the participating SPARK STEM Institute institutions for this fall in Auburn.

This story originally appeared on the Auburn University website.

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