The Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program recently awarded the University of Arkansas $1.25 million to support science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) education for underrepresented students, the university announced on Aug. 17.
The five-year grant will be used to advance opportunities to engage in the STEAM fields for both students and teachers. Tameka Bailey, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biological sciences, is the grant’s project director.
A key component of the grant is a one-week summer program in Fayetteville. The program targets rising sixth graders from Reed Elementary in Dumas, which is largely rural, low-resource and African American.
The program aims to improve STEAM awareness, academic performance, graduation rates and college enrollment for 400 rising sixth graders from Dumas. One avenue through which the program will support these students and their families is through $50 seed deposits in an AR Gift Fund to build college savings. The program will also aim to improve STEAM teaching performance and efficacy for educators in Dumas.
“As an underrepresented minority within the STEM disciplines, it’s very important to me that we change the demographic — the representation that’s within those disciplines,” Bailey said. “I want to connect the two communities — my home in Fayetteville and my native home of Gould and Dumas. For me, growing up, opportunity was everything. Had I not been exposed to STEM very early on, I would not have become a research scientist.”
People of color are underrepresented in STEAM education and careers, often due to gender, socioeconomic and cultural factors. Early access to STEAM classes is often a predictor in whether students will pursue a STEAM major and eventual career. Getting students engaged, interested and thinking about STEAM disciplines early is critical to nurturing a lifelong pursuit.
Studies show that around the fifth grade students decide what they’re going to be in life, Bailey added. The earlier that students are exposed to the STEAM disciplines, the more likely they will study those disciplines. “And by exposing them to the University of Arkansas, the more likely they are to attend the University of Arkansas. So, we want to put the university at the top of their radar.”
This grant represents a significant advancement of the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Yvette Murphy-Erby, the vice chancellor of diversity, equity and inclusion, noted the grant reflects the university’s community-based effort that “aligns perfectly with our land-grant, academic and research missions, focuses on STEAM education and preparation for post-secondary education success, and targets an underserved community in the state that is in need of much support.”
She added, “Dr. Bailey is from the community, and it was her vision that started the camp and her willingness to collaborate with others on campus to broaden the effort in this meaningful, innovative and difference making way.”
This is the first time the university has received a grant from the SEPA program, which is sponsored by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a component of the National Institutes of Health.
Key collaborators in shaping the curriculum and grant proposal also included Marcia Shobe, director of research in the Office for Diversity and Inclusion; Douglas Rhoads, University Professor of biological sciences; and Michael Daughtery, Distinguished Professor of STEM education.
According to the program’s website, the Science Education Partnership Award “funds innovative science, technology, engineering and mathematics and Informal Science Education educational projects for pre-kindergarten to grade 12. SEPA projects create partnerships among biomedical and clinical researchers and teachers, schools, museums, science centers, media experts and other educational organizations.”
Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to Arkansas’ economy. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among the few U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation.