AwardsFreedom CheteniSchool Administrators ResearchThe Superintendents Journal

Creating STEM Opportunities for High-Achieving Rural Alabama Students: University of North Alabama

Melissa Moore-Driskell

[email protected]

With funding from the NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) program, this project will provide scholarships to academically promising, low-income students drawn from the Alabama rural catchment region. By engaging local high schools, families, and support systems, this program will develop a pathway for rural students in the region to enroll in STEM programs at the University of North Alabama. Scholars will be provided with a tailored yet diverse breadth of academic and co-curricular opportunities to promote retention, graduation, and success in the STEM workforce. The goal of the program will be for at least 90% of S-STEM scholarship recipients to enter a STEM-related career and/or pursue graduate STEM studies. Graduates of the program will support the growing economic and industrial needs of the region as STEM job growth is expected to increase by over 20% in north Alabama by 2026. The program has the potential to provide innovative best practices that may be used to increase STEM retention, graduation, and workforce development at other institutions that serve rural students.<br/><br/>The S-STEM Scholars program will strive to graduate at least 75% of its Scholars in eight semesters and increase the University of North Alabama's four-year graduation rate by sixteen percentage points. To achieve these goals, Scholars will be offered a well-coordinated blend of academic and co-curricular activities, including college orientation, faculty mentoring and institutional advising, community engagement, career and entrepreneurial opportunities, University support services, and institutional engagement. To determine the effectiveness of program activities on the recruitment, retention, and graduation of STEM students from rural backgrounds, as well as changes in perceptions related to college, belonging, and careers, the current program project will compare S-STEM Scholars (the treatment group) with non-Scholars (control group). The program will use a matched sample approach to identify non-Scholars who share as many characteristics with the treatment group as possible. The differences between the treatment and control groups will be analyzed using a between-subjects and within-subjects design. Specifically, this study will examine if the additional activities offered to Scholars, and the levels of participation by Scholars, result in significant differences in outcomes. The project will use a mixed-method design that will involve collecting, analyzing, and integrating quantitative data from survey questions and qualitative data from focus groups. By using different methods and techniques, it will allow for corroboration of the robustness of the findings and their generalizability to other institutions that serve rural students.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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