Our Nation currently faces a critical need to increase the number of U.S. workers with the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) knowledge and skills necessary for the United States to continue to be a prominent force in science and technology innovation and global economic development. Recent projections by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) estimate that an additional one million STEM professionals will be needed over the next decade to fill emerging jobs, particularly in engineering fields1. This anticipated demand, combined with our understanding of the underrepresentation of women, specific ethnic groups, and economically disadvantaged students in STEM baccalaureate programs presents a unique opportunity for research intensive institutions like Stony Brook University to assist in local, state and national efforts to increase the number of underrepresented persons advancing into the STEM careers. For the past thirty years, the Department of Technology and Society (DTS) in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook, through a number of externally funded projects serving under-represented minority and low income students, has been a critical force in that effort, growing and supporting programs and initiatives to achieve that exact outcome. Funding sources include the New York State Education Department (NYSED), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and numerous corporate foundations, for example, Computer Associates, BP Amoco, Motorola Solutions-with the Women in Science and Engineering program, and Hearst.
In 2007, DTS created STEM Smart as the umbrella for the numerous outreach programs within the Department that were funded due to the diligent efforts of its research staff. The two core programs within the Department are funded by NYSED. These programs are the Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP), funded in 1986, and the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP), funded in 1987. These programs are designed to enhance the participation of underrepresented and/or economically disadvantaged students pursuing degrees in the social and physical sciences, technology, engineering, or mathematics and/or licensed professions within the State of New York. In calculating need-based financial awards Stony Brook’s Office of Financial Aid considers expected family contribution (EFC) towards their child’s education. Over 45% of CSTEP’s 420 students have an EFC of less than $1000. Over the following thirty years several additional programs were added to the STEM SMART group:
- The NSF Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) in 1996
- The NSF Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (SUNY AGEP) in 1999
- The NSF Computer Science Engineering and Mathematics Scholarship (CSEMS) program in 2000
- The NSF Scholarships for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) programs in 2006 and 2009
- The NSF Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences (OEDG) program in 2007
- The NASA New York Space Grant program in 2007
- The Motorola Solutions TechPREP and STEM Tech programs with WISE in 2008
- The Hearst Foundation Transfer Scholars program in 2015
STEM Smart’s programs draw from Stony Brook University, state and national resources to coach, mentor and financially support pre-college, undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees and eventual careers in STEM, in addition to some careers requiring NY State licensure. Through its broad collection of eight currently active pre-collegiate, undergraduate, and graduate efforts, STEM Smart annually supports over 800 K-12, undergraduate, and graduate scholars from underrepresented and low income groups who are interested in and majoring in STEM fields.
The coordination of Stony Brook’s STEM focused K-12 and undergraduate scholar-serving programs via STEM Smart creates an interconnected pathway through which New York State’s underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students can overcome barriers to success in STEM fields, achieving significant milestones in degree attainment and exposure to STEM research and areas of study. “The housing of underrepresented student serving initiatives in STEM that span the K-16 academic pathway under the STEM Smart umbrella positions Stony Brook University to be able to leverage each program’s network of teachers, faculty, and administrators at both Stony Brook and our partner institutions at the middle, high school and community college levels to find appropriate opportunities and placements for students of all age groups to explore STEM ,” noted STEP and CSTEP Co-Director Dr. Christine Veloso. STEM Smart’s close collaborations with underrepresented graduate student serving programs at Stony Brook, as well as its own history of bringing underrepresented student-serving graduate initiatives such as SUNY AGEP to the Stony Brook campus, allows STEM Smart to assist their scholars in advancing beyond the baccalaureate degree to Master’s, Professional, and Doctoral study and into lucrative careers in science, industry and the academy.
Under the directorship of Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, Distinguished Service Professor and Chair of the Department of Technology & Society Dr. David Ferguson, STEM Smart’s team of seven project staff as well as countless faculty participants work ceaselessly to prepare program participants for STEM careers in high-technology industries, research, and education in both the private and public sectors. STEM Smart has had great success in advancing their students onto graduate degrees programs at an impressive list of institutions that includes Cornell, Harvard, Northwestern, Stanford, the University of Chicago, and Yale. For the years 2009-2014 alone, in the NSF LSAMP, S-STEM and OEDG and NASA supported STEM Smart programs, there were one hundred and eighty-four students who graduated from these programs. Of these students, 87 went to graduate school and of these 87, 33 were enrolled in either a professional school or a STEM PhD program. An additional 74 found employment in STEM positions for companies ranging from Google, Johnson and Johnson, the Naval Warfare Center, John Deere, and United Technologies. This entire cohort of graduating students achieved many academic honors, including two Fulbright Fellowships, nine Phi Beta Kappa inductions, two National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program winners, twenty Magna Cum Laude baccalaureate graduates and seventeen Summa Cum Laude graduates.
One success story is that of CSTEP, LSAMP and S-STEM participant Dara Bobb-Semple. Dara came to the United States in 2009 from Guyana and began undergraduate study at Stony Brook during the spring of 2010. Coming from a single parent household, Dara faced many challenges shared by other economically disadvantaged and underrepresented students with a passion for STEM research; namely, financial challenges to focusing on gaining research experience.
STEM Smart provided Dara with several support mechanisms in addition to funding to alleviate these obstacles and help her advance on a path to the PhD. By being a part of the STEM Smart community, as opposed to a single, stand-alone program, Dara immediately became part of a large-scale, collaborative cohort of students and scholars passionate about STEM research and aware of recent and relevant opportunities which would help her in advancing her career goals. Opportunities included academic/career advisement from STEM Smart staff, and access to funded research opportunities with Stony Brook Faculty. One such research opportunity, in the lab of Chemistry Professor Dr. Stanislaus Wong, was the spark that set alight Dara’s passion to pursue research and doctoral study. At the advisement of then graduate student Dr. Cindy Thomas (Stony Brook PhD in Genetics, 2014), Dara applied to and was accepted in 2011 to Stony Brook’s SUNY AGEP Summer Research Institute to continue her research in Dr. Wong’s Laboratory. Her summer research participation gave Dara the background and experience necessary to apply, with the support of STEM Smart Co-director Paul Siegel, for Stony Brook’s National Institutes of Health Maximizing Access to Research Careers (NIH-MARC) Fellowship. Dara was selected to join the MARC program, which became another stepping stone in Dara’s successful baccalaureate degree completion. Dara graduated summa cum laude in 2013 with a near-perfect grade point average. In 2014, she was selected to participate in an NSF funded research opportunity with Imec, a research company located in Belgium, through a collaborative effort between Louisiana State University and KU Leuven. Today, Dara is pursuing her doctoral degree in Chemical Engineering at Stanford University, working in the laboratory of Dr. Stacey Bent where she is investigating new methods for area selective atomic layer deposition with funding from the competitive and prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.
Recently, Stony Brook has made a first-time financial commitment to STEM Smart in the amount of $120,000 to support an eventual cohort of forty-eight students in the NSF LSAMP program. The STEM Smart team continues to actively pursue federal and private grant funding opportunities to grow the number of underrepresented baccalaureate scholars it can support. Recently funded initiatives include a NASA supplement, the Hearst Transfer Scholars program, and a NSF GeoPATH collaborative effort with the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. In 2015, the STEP and CSTEP programs were refunded for another five year cycle, and a refunding proposal for the LSAMP program was submitted to the NSF in November of 2015. "The College of Engineering and Applied Sciences is deeply committed to enhancing the participation of underrepresented minorities and economically disadvantaged students in STEM. In an era when technological innovations are driving economic development and are at the forefront of our quest to sustain humanity, we simply cannot afford to not engage the brainpower of such students in our collective efforts to tackle society's biggest problems. STEM Smart is an excellent example of the kind of leadership Stony Brook University is providing in this front," noted Dr. Fotis Sotiropoulos, Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The STEM Smart programs, through the CSTEP, LSAMP, and NASA, are now able to provide $45,000 per year in the support of undergraduate research. This represents a doubling of the student research funding that was available as recently as the spring of 2015.
STEM Smart has proven to be highly successful and represents the most effective program on the Stony Brook campus on the promotion of academic and industrial STEM careers to populations of under-represented minority and low income students. For more information regarding STEM Smart please contact Paul Siegel, STEM Smart Co-Director, in the Department of Technology and Society at 631-632-8716.
1 President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Engage to excel: producing one million additional college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Executive Office of the President of the United States, 2012).