Introduction: The main goal of the NSF REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) program is to provide meaningful research experiences to undergraduates, who may not otherwise have the opportunity, to increase matriculation in STEM careers and graduate school. Additionally, the inclusion of under-represented groups (minorities, low socio-economic status, first generation students, veterans and women) will serve to broaden the STEM talent pool. To this end, we present a model for targeted recruiting and home institution mentoring.
Recruitment and Mentoring: While we recruit nationwide through various mechanisms (email campaigns, flyers at conferences, and website), we target recruitment at four universities; three historically black universities (73-78% African-American) and one serving a large Native American population (16%). We have identified key faculty at the targeted institutions to help advertise the program and serve as home institution mentors to students from their respective schools. The objective of the home institution mentors is to engage participants for longer than the 10 week summer research experience. The mentors provide initial pre-program mentoring on literature review, research process, and program expectations; and continued mentoring following the program on conference presentations. For students not enrolled at a target institution, home mentors are identified upon acceptance.
Assessment: After acceptance, students are electronically introduced to their home institution mentors and asked to schedule a meeting. Interactions with home institution mentors are self-reported by students in a pre-program survey. Students are requested to meet with their home institution mentor after the program to discuss the experience and prepare for conference presentations. These interactions are captured in follow-up surveys.
Results: In the 2014 and 2015 application cycles, 16% and 7% of applicants, respectively, and 25% of final participants were from targeted institutions. Demographics from the 2014 and 2015 application cycles were 30% and 26% under-represented minorities, respectively, and 55% female. In both cycles, final participants were 37.5% minority and 50% female. The accelerated time frame of the first year limited the pre-program preparation. In a follow-up survey for the 2014 cohort, 3 of 6 respondents continue to interact with their home institution mentor reporting frequencies of 2-7 times per month. The 2015 cohort had greater time for pre-program preparation, 88% interacted with their home institution mentor through multiple avenues (in person, email, phone) and 86% of students rated the interaction as good or very good. The follow-up survey for this cohort has not yet been completed.
Challenges and Path Forward: The majority of our applicants are coming from our national campaign. To improve applications from our targeted institutions we are planning recruitment visits for each school, which has worked well in the past for one targeted institutions. To increase our under-represented minority applications we are planning a social media campaign posting to minority science and engineering societies, and increasing targeting of our email campaign to minority serving institutions. The preliminary data on home institution mentors is promising as students have found it beneficial and have continued interactions beyond the summer program.
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