The mission of the Virginia Commonwealth University Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (VCU LSAMP) is to increase the retention and graduation rate of underrepresented minority students in STEM majors, with aims of matriculating this population into graduate programs. VCU LSAMP offers various initiatives throughout the school year to support the academic success of its students, including the summer transition program (STP), aimed at facilitating the high school to college transition process for underrepresented students majoring in STEM disciplines. Similar to other transition programs, STP students are enrolled in academic preparatory courses and become acclimated to the environment and resources provided by the university. However, one distinguishing practice of VCU STP is the implementation of a Design Project Challenge, a course in which teams of three to five students research and propose unique design solutions to a challenge facing society. Within one week, students develop a comprehensive understanding of ideation, design, research and in some cases prototyping an innovative remedy to the proposed problem, all while considering career options in STEM. The nature of this course immerses VCU LSAMP students into research and design culture, teaches them about real world applications, and encourages enthusiasm towards STEM. Through an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving, students are able to draw connections between their chosen areas of study and their scientific passions. The experience concludes with a symposium in which teams discuss their projects in both poster and oral presentation platforms. In this work in progress, we evaluate the role of the Design Project Challenge in fostering a link between students’ personal interests and career aspirations. We examine what motivates students to continue to persevere within STEM disciplines and whether exposure to research and design at the onset of college education serves as a key component.
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