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S3: Science Symposium to engage STEM students

This project, Science Symposium to Engage STEM Students (S Cubed), is designed to expand science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) interest and involvement of rural and Native Alaskan students through two principal linked activities: participation in the Sitka Whalefest, a non-traditional, informal science symposium, and a STEM credit course that capitalizes on the resources provided by the fest. The Whalefest features talks by nationally and internationally recognized scientists whose presentations interweave their scientific expertise with current global marine science issues. The college credit course will challenge students to analyze the nature of the links the fest creates between citizens (including themselves) and prominent marine researchers (including thinking of themselves in these roles). This project will use strategies to institutionalize this kind of learning into the small college setting and measure its potential for scaling up to larger universities. It will take science out of the classroom and engage a rural population in STEM in an innovative way.

The S Cubed project will explore the potential benefits of science symposium attendance by undergraduates from minority serving institutions, particularly those serving rural populations in Alaska and Washington. It will introduce undergraduates to the way in which science symposia/festivals make science relevant, and accessible. By developing and instituting a college course around a science symposium, this effort hopes to improve the numbers of rural and underserved students who declare STEM majors. Using upperclassman mentors, who have already declared their majors, S Cubed will investigate how the amount of time students have with professional marine scientists during the conference translates into engagement in STEM educational pathways. It will also measure how student interest in STEM disciplines during a conference translates into a declaration of a STEM major or promotes interest in a related STEM career pursuit. Primarily qualitative methods will be employed for these investigations, so that the cognitive and cultural learning processes, local and historical practices, and challenges of pedagogical design spread across social settings can be deeply understood. Ethnographic observations, interviews, and surveys will be conducted throughout the course-scaling up and refinement phases with the faculty instructors, as well as with a small focal cohort of undergraduate students throughout their participation in the course. The colleges involved in this activity include Peninsula Community College, Ilisagvik Tribal College and the University of Alaska, Southeast.

This project is funded jointly by the Directorate for Biological Sciences, Division of Biological Infrastructure and the Directorate for Education and Human Resources, Division of Undergraduate Education in support of efforts to address the challenges posed in Vision and Change in Undergraduate Education: A Call to Action

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