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10-University Alliance Improving Diversity in STEM
Kentucky Ag Connection - 10/08/2018

West Virginia University continues to be part of a multimillion dollar effort across a 10-university alliance to support STEM education for underrepresented students in Appalachia.

Funded for a third phase by a five-year, $3.5 million National Science Foundation grant beginning fall 2018, the Kentucky-West Virginia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation will examine underrepresented students' perceptions of science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines and careers and work to improve recruitment, retention and graduation rates of these students.

Focused on undergraduate underrepresented students, the grant will continue to support experiential learning, stipends, workshops and other activities at the alliance institutions.

Alliance-wide goals for the third phase include increasing the number of STEM bachelor's degrees earned by underrepresented students to an average of 380 per year and have at least 50 percent of LSAMP graduates pursuing graduate programs.

The alliance has the potential to significantly impact the lives of up to 5,000 underrepresented undergraduate students in the two Appalachian states. Programs continue to be developed at the member institutions to attract greater numbers of diverse students to the STEM fields and increase retention.

"In keeping with the goals of our statewide West Virginia Forward initiative, we are committed to building a dynamic, diverse STEM workforce in our state," said Joyce McConnell, provost and vice president for academic affairs at WVU. "We know that the jobs of the future will require STEM skills, and we also know that young people from all backgrounds deserve to be part of the talent pipeline that feeds those jobs. Our participation in this alliance will help us ensure these students' access and success."

As part of the first phase of LSAMP, which began in 2006, WVU offered three-week college algebra and pre-calculus courses for transitioning high school students and supported study abroad opportunities and summer undergraduate research.

David Miller, professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Mathematics, is a co-principal investigator on the grant and WVU's campus coordinator. In phases one and two, Miller developed an Emerging Scholars Program focusing on inquiry-based learning techniques, in which he teaches calculus classes using group learning and problem-solving as an alternative to lectures. LSAMP has also funded students to participate in WVU's Summer Undergraduate Research Experience.

"I promoted conceptual learning in the ESP classes by having students understand the conceptual underpinnings of each of the topics by going through the derivations to reinforce the theory. When they complete these activities, they are going through the concepts of how to come up with the formulas so that they don't just memorize. They understand the 'why,'" Miller said. "I tell students all the time that everything in mathematics has a why. If you understand why the mathematics works, then more than likely you can go through the process again in your mind to come up with the formula."

To expand ESP, Miller has worked with three other mathematics professors and two graduate teaching assistants to teach the ESP calculus courses.

Since phase two began, KY-WV LSAMP institutions granted 1,177 URM STEM degrees and enrolled an average of 2,306 students per year, surpassing their goals by 17.7 percent and 15.3 percent, respectively.

"At the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, we cultivate and hone critical thinking and analytic problem-solving skills," said Gregory Dunaway, dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. "The third phase of this grant will continue to have a tremendous impact on creating more educational and career opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds."

Lynnette Michaluk, a research assistant professor in WVU's Center for Excellence in STEM Education, is the research co-principal investigator on the grant at WVU. In phase three, she will study how LSAMP is affecting underrepresented students' beliefs, identities, attitudes and perceptions of the STEM disciplines as well as their experiences with racial microaggressions on campus alliance-wide.

"Non-cognitive factors including positive STEM attitudes and perceptions are important predictors of academic success in STEM," Michaluk said. "What we want to know is how LSAMP programming is related to those non-cognitive factors and whether and how they impact students' success and ultimately their retention."

Led by University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto, the principal investigator of the grant, the alliance of 10 higher education institutions includes WVU, University of Kentucky, Kentucky State University, University of Louisville, Western Kentucky University, Centre College, Marshall University, West Virginia State University, Bluegrass Community and Technical College and, new for phase three of the program, Jefferson Community and Technical College.

The NSF LSAMP program began in 1991 with six alliances, and now includes over 40 alliances and six regional centers. The program supports sustained and comprehensive efforts to increase the retention and graduation rates of underrepresented students. The program defines underrepresented groups as black, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders.

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