STEM Central

A Community of Practice for NSF STEM Projects

EXCEL and the Workforce Central Florida (WCF) (EXCEL Series:post 8)

Welcome to the 8th and final installment of my blog series describing the success of the EXCEL program. Here I describe how we were able to find outside support for EXCEL and thus sustain and grow the program.

In the summer of 2009, I, Michael Georgiopoulos (EXCEL Director), had a pivotal meeting, for what future events would attest, with a WORKFORCE CENTRAL FLORIDA (WCF) representative, and then WCF Director of Special projects. This meeting reaffirmed that WCF and EXCEL had several overlapping common goals and together they could propel STEM initiatives. The summer 2009 EXCEL WCF meeting went well because of the successes of EXCEL (Factor 2:Assessment), attributed to a strong learning community (Factor 1:Faculty support) and UCF’s support (Factor 3:Admin support). In 2009-2010, WCF supported the EXCEL in Math Persistence program. This program provided additional funding to EXCEL students that devoted additional time at the EXCEL Tutoring Center in an effort to improve their mathematics knowledge; the support was connected to improved performance in their math courses. In 2009-2010, WCF also supported EXCEL sophomore research experiences through their work experiences program. At the end of spring 2010, EXCEL, after coordinating with WCF, extended the work experiences program support to other non-EXCEL students at UCF, such as students who belonged to the RAMP program. RAMP students are funded by UCF, during an academic year, to do research at the lab of a UCF STEM professor. A number of RAMP students who were funded by UCF in the academic year of 2009-2010, were able to continue their research in the summer of 2010 through the WCF support. The summer 2010 support of RAMP students was secured through the successful collaboration established, since the beginning of fall 2009, between EXCEL and WCF.

The fruitful collaboration between EXCEL and WCF in 2009-2010, created a partnership between EXCEL and WCF who was destined to continue and expand for the years to come. For instance, EXCEL’s 2009 retention numbers indicated that the EXCEL female freshman retention rate was lagging behind the EXCEL male freshman retention rate by 15%. After a number of discussions between EXCEL and the WCF representatives it was agreed that a peer mentorship program for EXCEL female freshman students was worth pursuing. This resulted in the creation of a new program, called GEMS (Girls EXCELing in Math and Science), supported in 2010-2011 by WCF. The support of the EXCEL program at UCF by WCF continued up to the spring 2012. Then, a re-organization of WCF occurred that resulted in putting a temporary halt to our strong collaborative efforts for more than a year. These collaborative efforts picked up in the fall of 2013 and resulted in co-organizing a workshop, supported by NSF, called STEPWork. This workshop took place in the spring of 2014 and its primary intent was to inform STEP grantees, invited at the workshop, of the strong collaborative efforts between UCF and WCF and how these or similar collaborative efforts could be emulated at the STEP Grantees’ home institution relying on the support of their regional workforce board.  It is worth noting that WCF is now called CareerSource Central Florida but we keep referring to it as WCF to retain connectivity with prior blog postings.

STEPWork was attended by 16 STEP grantees and 12 Workforce Board representatives over a day and a half at the beginning of May 2014. The Workforce representatives who attended were from the workforce board located in the region of the STEP grantee. The STEP grantees who did not have a workforce board pair were paired up with representatives from Workforce Central Florida. The STEPWork meeting featured a number of activities, such as an address by an NSF program officer, a panel discussion by workforce board representatives, a poster session by STEP grantees and various opportunities for networking (breakfast, lunch and dinner).  The most important activity of STEPWork was an individual interaction of the STEP grantee and their corresponding workforce board representative that identified opportunities for their stronger collaboration, A stronger collaboration would result in attaining sustainability of the STEP grant or arts of it, while simultaneously fulfilling the primary mission of workforce board organizations to connect potential workers with employers in their region. The second day of STEPWork included a reporting out session from STEP grantees and workforce board pairs and closing out thoughts by the NSF program officer, the EXCEL program Director and Workforce Central Florida’s CEO. Preliminary feedback from all STEPWork’s attendees was that the workshop was successful at attaining its goals (bringing together, for the first time, STEP grantees and Workforce board representatives and helping to initiate or enhance their mutual collaborations). More of STEPWork’s assessment will happen at the end of fall 2014 where we will have more concrete feedback of which of STEPWork’s identified collaborations eventually materialized.  The intent is to re-run this workshop in spring 2015, using a similar format, or another appropriately re-designed format.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blogs. I hope that these blogs have been useful to STEP Grantees and anyone interested in institutionalizing their undergraduate STEM program. Good luck with your programs, and please don't hesitate to contact me with questions!