The New Mexico State University College of Engineering has been awarded a National Science Foundation INCLUDES grant.
Steven Stochaj, professor in the Klipsch School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is leading the project, “Enhancing the New Mexico STEM Pipeline-Design and Development Launch Pilot,” as principal investigator. Patricia Sullivan, associate dean for outreach and public service in the College of Engineering, and Luis Vazquez, associate vice president for research integrity, are co-principal investigators on the two-year, nearly $300,000 grant.
The grant is one of 37 projects nationally to be funded as part of the NSF’s first-ever NSF INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) program, which is an initiative to improve U.S. leadership in science and engineering by increasing participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
This project’s goal is to enhance underrepresented minorities’ participation in both STEM degree programs and the STEM workforce. The project, which began Oct. 1, aims to identify why underrepresented minorities leave the STEM pipeline. The program will utilize surveys of sixth- through 12th-graders in current NMSU College of Engineering outreach programs such as the PREP summer program for middle school and high school students, BEST robotics program, VEX robotics program and Project Lead the Way.
Stochaj said he was inspired to research the STEM pipeline when he attended a BEST robotics competition last year.
“There’s been a lot of work done by the National Science Foundation that finds out that science and engineering identities get formed in middle school. We want to start a little bit before that when students might not know it’s hard or something that a Hispanic student might not normally go in to.”
In anticipation of this project, Stochaj said they surveyed students in the PREP program this summer for advanced analysis.
“We had no problem getting a 50-50 gender split of middle school students who apply, we struggled to do that in high school students, so something has happened between middle school and high school, which are making women believe that STEM isn’t the thing for them,” he said. “One of the things we’re going to do with the assessment of these programs, is to look at tools that measure self-efficacy and how students are identifying with the engineering and science professions and see what we can do to keep that connection instead of having it diverge.”
Stochaj said he hopes the findings of the project will reach far and wide.
“I think what we are going to find can be applicable across the United States to other underrepresented groups and can be used to change some fundamental things about how we do STEM activities.”
Additionally, Stochaj said he was proud that NMSU’s engineering graduates reflect the state’s demographics but realizes improvements need to be made to increase minority student participation in graduate programs.
“What can we do to set their goals even higher than just getting their bachelor’s?”