The Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem (BCE2) is a partnership of area schools, diverse academic institutions, government, and community organizations in the Midwest to attract and retain underrepresented groups in engineering and science, improve the quality of low-income neighborhoods, and build STEM literacy throughout the regional workforce. It is, in part, driven by the understanding that educational institutions at a variety of levels need improved approaches to attract and retain a diversity of students in the STEM fields. Demand for STEM skills is not at just the Bachelor’s or graduate degree level. Consequently, diversity in BCE2 extends beyond race, gender, and socio-economic status, including a diversity of student ages, education, and cultural backgrounds – multi-dimensional diversity.
Led by the College of Engineering at a research university and drawing from critical principles from engaged learning and innovation ecosystem environments and best practices for STEM learning, BCE2 is developing a system across different types of institutions that is woven into the cultural fabric of the region. As such, this effort seeks to impact attraction and retention across the STEM pipeline, but also attraction and retention to the geographic region in which they are making contributions. The BCE2 effort applies elements of the persistence framework (Graham, Frederick, Byars-Winston, Hunter, & Handelsman, 2013) with early research and active learning in the community. Early experience in applications of STEM can also help build confidence and identity related to STEM. Identity with a discipline is one of the strongest indicators of persistence in that discipline (Andersen & Ward, 2014) and active learning can support diversity in sense-making and identity (Danielak, Gupta, & Elby, 2014).
Preliminary findings from reflections, interviews, ethnographic observations, and surveys on progress in attraction and retention, particularly along the dimension of identity, indicate progress in several of the outcome categories. Exposure to both the community projects and the weekly seminars regarding STEM fields has contributed to student formation as future STEM professionals. Following the summer internship experience, students, including those coming from the high schools the community college, have indicated that their conceptualization of STEM field possibilities is wider and a career path is clearer. A few of students indicated interest in taking new STEM-related courses and one is considering switching within STEM-related disciplines. In addition, survey responses regarding feeling connection to the region provide information pertinent to developing a geographically specific STEM workforce. Researchers conducted a paired-samples t-test to determine differences pre- and post-intervention. There was a statistically significant increase in interns reporting feeling a connection to the region with a large effect size. At this stage of the grant, these findings are promising for potential to impact diversity in STEM – from both a geographic and human resources perspective.
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