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Building a STEM Pathway: Xavier University of Louisiana’s Summer Science Academy


Research shows that students of color aspire to major in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in college at the same rates as their white and Asian American peers. Yet, despite their interest in pursuing STEM careers, students of color remain underrepresented in STEM degree programs.

Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically Black university in New Orleans, is working against that trend. At least 70 percent of Xavier’s 3,000 students are Black, and 65 percent of those students major in science and mathematics. Xavier ranks first nationally in the number of Black students who earn degrees in biological/life sciences.

For more than 20 years, Xavier has offered a series of summer bridge programs to prepare middle and high school students of color to succeed in STEM. Xavier’s nine STEM bridge programs, known as the Summer Science Academy, serve about 600 secondary school students each summer. The programs strengthen students’ knowledge and skills in mathematics, science, and literacy and focuses on students’ social learning as well as their academic knowledge.

This report on Xavier University of Louisiana’s summer bridge program—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. It also offers several recommendations to states and districts for improving the participation of underrepresented student groups in STEM careers.
Xavier’s ChemSTAR program emphasizes collaborative learning and encourages students to demonstrate mastery of core concepts by teaching them to their classmates.
Xavier’s ChemSTAR program uses formative assessment to monitor students’ learning.
Xavier university leaders and bridge program administrators explain the role that vocabulary development plays in enhancing students’ knowledge and understanding of STEM concepts and course work.
Xavier’s bridge programs develop students’ abilities to reflect on and control their own learning.
To sustain year-long learning, Xavier offers professional workshops to middle and high school STEM teachers to enact new teaching strategies in math and science.
Xavier’s SOAR program encourages students to share ideas and explore new subjects collaboratively through group activities that tap students’ creative and performance talents.
Students in Xavier’s ChemSTAR program split their time between the classroom and lab, an instructional strategy designed to build students’ applied problem-solving skills.
Xavier’s Stress on Analytical Reasoning (SOAR) program engages students in inquiry-based learning and emphasizes the use of scientific language and literacy.
Administrators from Xavier University of Louisiana describe the rationale, design, and impact of the university’s Summer Science Academy in response to national trends that show a declining number of Black students entering college, persisting, and earning a degree.

“In a nation where students of color now constitute 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. Xavier’s Summer Science Academy provides a model for how to do so.”

—Bob Wise, Former President of All4Ed