4 Ways STEM Majors Can Stay The Course

Black and Latino students just starting out specialization in STEM – or science, technology, engineering or mathematics – are more likely than their white peers change fields or leave without a diploma.

Some students leave because they feel isolated on the campus. Others may not have the kind of technical skills, such as effective science communication, needed to persist in these subjects. When students from underrepresented groups leaving STEM majorsit affects the whole of society, hampering the overall potential of critical thinking, creativity and innovation.

Innovation and scientific progress require the talents of people from diverse backgrounds.

As a Ph.D. candidates in biology at one of the best historically black universities in the countrywe joined a group of scientists in 2021 to discover and recommend some elements to help underrepresented students build their scientific identity and stick with STEM. Here are four of those recommendations.

1. Take a freshman seminary course

First year seminarsimplemented in both large and small colleges, are designed to help students adapt to the new college environment. First-year seminars help students cope with the stress of academic pressures as well as day-to-day college life.

Students who received poor grades in introductory STEM courses are more likely leave STEM than those with higher scores. Participation in first year seminars can help students increase their overall GPA in their freshman year. This in turn can encourage them to persevere in their given major.

Although freshmen may take some time to get used to college work, a 2021 article notes that minority students may have even more difficult passage than their white counterparts. Researchers who surveyed students at first-year seminars at 45 four-year colleges and universities concluded that seminars should cover topics like the benefits of mentoring, the power of networking, and how to find a job after graduation.

2. STEM majors can take a research course for undergraduates

STEM students need Research experience before graduation to be more attractive to future employers or graduate studies. One format for these experiences is known as “CURE”, an acronym for course-based undergraduate research experiences. These CURE, if you will, offer undergraduate students the opportunity to participate in real life science from design to execution. Research shows that these undergraduate research experiences are effective. At Montana State University, for example, a study found that students taking these courses gained a better understanding environmental microbiology and thermal biology.

CUREs allow professors to interact with undergraduate students on a more personal level. One article shows that having a faculty with a identity similar to minority students provides students with role models they can identify with. Students who see each other reflected in their teachers are more successful in their majors, research has shown.

If colleges lack the resources to establish CUREs, they can collaborate with better-resourced colleges that are nearby. A study found that when a small, predominantly white college collaborated with a larger, historically black college, student test scores increased significantly – from a range of scores of 35% to 60% to a range of 65% to 86%. Students also saw a great benefit in being able to interact with students from different backgrounds.

3. Join a book club

Aspiring STEM professionals must be able to interpret scientific papers to stay abreast of scientific activity in their field. As essential as this skill is, it is usually taught in extracurricular spaces such as lab book clubs, not in classrooms. Universities with “very high” research activity usually have these journal clubs in place, but in universities with less research activity or institutions that serve minorities, research-related activities may take a back seat due to high teaching loads among the teachers.

For this reason, some underrepresented STEM majors are on the verge of a rude awakening when they enter graduate school. They can be overwhelmed when suddenly asked to understand many dense and jargon-filled articles by them selves.

This is why it is so important to participate in book clubs in college. These free book clubs give students the chance to learn how to read articles with the help of their peers and mentors. Book clubs, such as the CASL Club at the University of North Carolina at Pembrokealso helping STEM majors get the confidence they need critique articles and conduct their own scientific research. Frequent participation in journal clubs also helps STEM majors meet academic journal standards for their own publications.

4. STEM majors can attend a grant writing academy

It’s hard but essential for STEM professionals to obtain grants to fund their long-term research. Most grants go to a group of adults Where predominantly white institutions. Reasons for this include bias in awarding grantsas well as lower grant submission rates and resubmission among underrepresented researchers. Collectively, these issues result in less funding over time for underrepresented STEM students and professionals.

When writing a grant application, early patterns of success or failure tend to influence subsequent patterns of success. Therefore, the sooner a STEM major learns to write successfully and obtain grants to support their research, the better their chances of completing their research. Grantmaking academies can provide some of the much-needed technical advice for students to increase their ability to secure funding. For example, student participation in Stanford’s Biosciences Grant Writing Academy has made almost twice as likely for participants to obtain funding.

As biologists who study complex phenomena, we know that the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics are difficult. However, we believe these four strategies can best equip underrepresented STEM majors with the tools to excel in their fields.

Esohe G. IraborPh.D. Candidate in Biology, Howard University and Brandy WhitePh.D. Candidate in Biology, Howard University

This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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