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BUILDING A STEM PATHWAY: Summer Bridge Program Closes Achievement Gaps and Increases Secondary School Students’ Interest in STEM, New Alliance Report Finds

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“The program was really designed to bring students in, show them the rigors of learning and the rigors that were going to be required in the science fields,” Francis said, “but also to show them what an excitement comes when one learns and gets the confidence of knowing that they can do what many people thought they couldn’t do at all.”

Building a STEM Pathway: Xavier University of Louisiana’s Summer Science Academy, a new report released on February 19 by the Alliance for Excellent Education, examines how Xavier’s summer bridge program for middle and high school students prepares students of color to succeed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. This extensive report—interspersed with video highlights of the program—provides a lens into the kind of academic and social learning that build students’ competencies in STEM course work. (Click on the image below for a short video overview of the bridge program.)

“In a nation where students of color are now the majority of public school enrollees, increasing the diversity of the U.S. STEM workforce is vital to maintaining the nation’s scientific and technological leadership,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Xavier’s Summer Science Academy provides an important model for how to do so.”

Xavier University of Louisiana—a historically black university that enrolls only 3,000 students—continues to rank first nationally in the number of African American students who earn degrees in biological/life sciences and the number of African American graduates who go on to complete medical school. The university’s nine STEM bridge programs, which serve about 600 secondary school students each summer, strengthen students’ mastery of knowledge and skills in mathematics, science, and literacy. The programs teach students to apply their new skills in collaborative study groups and authentic laboratory settings.

At a release event broadcast live from the Alliance’s brand new Gerard and Lilo Leeds Conference and Advocacy Center, Norman Francis, president of Xavier and 2006 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, described the rationale behind the program’s creation. “The program was really designed to bring students in, show them the rigors of learning and the rigors that were going to be required in the science fields,” Francis said, “but also to show them what an excitement comes when one learns and gets the confidence of knowing that they can do what many people thought they couldn’t do at all.”

Other speakers at the release event included Loren Blanchard, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Xavier; Michael Smith, special assistant to the president and senior director of cabinet affairs for My Brother’s Keeper at the White House; and former and current students from Xavier’s Summer Science Academy. (Archived video from the event is available at https://all4ed.org/webinar-event/feb-19-2015/.)

Xavier also works to improve the effectiveness of secondary school math and science teachers by partnering with middle and high schools to help teachers design curriculum and enact new teaching strategies in math and science education. Nationally, the number of math and science teachers has increased steadily, but students in schools with high concentrations of low-income students and students of color continue to struggle to find teachers with credentials in STEM teaching. As the only historically black college or university involved in the 100Kin10 Network, a partnership committed to the goal of preparing 100,000 excellent STEM teachers by 2021, Xavier University has committed to producing 110 new STEM teachers by 2021 who are specifically qualified to work with urban high-needs schools and districts.

The report offers several recommendations to states and districts for improving the participation of underrepresented student groups in STEM careers:

  • Set high-performance expectations for college and career readiness for all students.
  • Improve collaborations between K–12 and postsecondary institutions to facilitate advancement along the pathway to a STEM degree.
  • Redesign learning environments based on research of human development and learning.
  • Improve systems to ensure equal access to high-quality, effective STEM teachers.

The report also calls for increased federal funding to scale up the most effective STEM programs with the goal of improving mathematics and science education for all students.

Building a STEM Pathway: Xavier University of Louisiana’s Summer Science Academy, as well as several short videos showing the academy in action, are available at https://all4ed.org/stem/.

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STEM

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