Engaging Communities in STEM Education

Resilient Societies

Teaching & Lifelong Learning

In order to remain competitive globally, the United States needs to greatly increase the number of students receiving secondary education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Shetay Ashford speaks to a group of people

One opportunity to do so is in better engaging and encouraging people of color, who have been historically underrepresented in STEM programs, to pursue and complete higher education degrees. Research has long suggested that the underrepresentation of minorities in the STEM fields is related to a combination of structural barriers to access and opportunity, and social or psychological barriers developed as a response to existing disparities and social factors. Dr. Shetay Ashford of the Texas State Department of Occupational, Workforce, and Leadership Studies is conducting research to overcome these barriers and meet the needs of the future U.S. STEM workforce. Working with co-principal investigators and STEM educators Dr. Kristy L. Daniel and Dr. Dana M. García of the Department of Biology, along with a team of graduate research assistants, Ashford is the principal investigator of a community-engaged research project called ACCEYSS — the Association of Collaborative Communities Equipping Youth for STEM Success.

The ACCEYSS project is currently funded by a two-year National Science Foundation grant to develop pilot studies aimed at creating a sustainable, research-driven STEM intervention model for increasing the number of historically underrepresented and underserved minorities who attain undergraduate STEM degrees. The project began with a study of 151 minority and non-minority students in the Texas State College of Science and Engineering to identify existing and perceived barriers and obstacles, as well as success factors that keep students enrolled and on-track to graduation.

Research has long suggested that the underrepresentation of minorities in the STEM fields is related to a combination of structural barriers to access and opportunity, and social or psychological barriers developed as a response to existing disparities and social factors.

The key to success, Ashford believes, is “meeting people where they are.” To that end, ACCEYSS partners with community members including Texas State University, the Career and Technical Education department of the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District, San Marcos Youth Service Bureau, the City of San Marcos – Office of the City Manager, Greater San Marcos Partnership, the Hays County Youth Initiative, the Calaboose African American History Museum, el Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos, Alternative Life Moving Strategies, The P2P Movement, Inc. and several local faith-based organizations, whom Ashford emphatically calls a “historical hub for social, political and economic empowerment in communities of color.” Together, these partners will identify ways that the community can help lift up students and support them through graduation and beyond.

The next stages of the project will build on these community engagements, working with stakeholders while further developing the education model for student success. Eventually the group hopes to reach out to other communities to gather more data and test their model’s effectiveness with diverse, underserved groups across the state of Texas. Success in this phase will eventually lead to the establishment of a nonprofit organization aimed at taking the ACCEYSS model nationwide and opening a pathway to strengthening STEM skills in students of all ages.

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