UA Fayetteville Receives $1.25M Grant to Support Underrepresented Students Interested in STEAM Fields

UA Fayetteville receives grant to support Delta students interested in STEAM fields

Photo via University of Arkansas

By Pamela Acosta

Delta students interested in entering science, technology, engineering, art, or mathematics (STEAM) will now be able to find the key at an early age, thanks to a $1.25 million grant from the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program.

SEPA recently awarded the University of Arkansas a 5-year grant to advance opportunities for students and teachers in the Delta interested in STEAM fields.

One of the main opportunities for students to get their first taste of higher education in STEAM is a summer program in Fayetteville designed to help students in Dumas, a largely rural, low-resource, and Black region.

The one-week program seeks to improve STEAM awareness, academic performance, graduation rates, and college enrollment for 400 rising sixth graders at Reed Elementary in Dumas.

Participating students and their families will receive a $50 seed deposit 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.

Tameka Bailey, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biological sciences, is the grant’s project director.

“As an underrepresented minority within the STEM disciplines, it’s very important to me that we change the demographic — the representation within those disciplines,” Bailey said. “I want to connect the two communities — my home in Fayetteville and my native home of Gould and Dumas.”

People of color are often underrepresented in STEM education and careers. Black and Hispanic adults are less likely to earn STEM degrees than in other fields. According to a Pew Research Center analysis, they continue to make up a lower share of STEM graduates relative to their percentage of the adult population.

According to the analysis, current trends in STEM degree attainment appear unlikely to narrow these gaps substantially.

As for women, even though the gender now earns most of all undergraduate and advanced degrees, they remain a small share of degree earners in fields like engineering and computer science – where they are significantly underrepresented in the workforce.

According to an American Association of University Women (AAUW) report, girls and boys take the same number of math and science courses in elementary, middle, and high school. Both leave high school prepared to pursue science and engineering degrees in college. Yet women are less likely than men to pursue majors in STEM. By graduation, men outnumber women in nearly every scientific field. The difference is even more pronounced for physics, computer science, and engineering, with women earning only 20% of bachelor’s degrees in STEM. The numbers decline even more at the graduate level and in the workplace.

The program directed by Bailey seeks to change those statistics.

“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,” said Bailey.

Studies show students decide what they will do at around fifth grade. Like Bailey, students exposed to and engaged with STEAM early on are more likely to pursue a career in the field.

The University of Arkansas is also hoping to put itself on these students’ radars so they are more likely to choose the U of A to pursue their higher education in the future.

This is the first time the university has been awarded a grant from SEPA, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

SEPA funds innovative STEM and informal science education projects for pre-kindergarten to grade 12 by creating partnerships between biomedical and clinical researchers and teachers, schools, museums, science centers, media experts, and other educational organizations.

The U of A is among the few U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity, according to a classification by the Cargenie Foundation.

The curriculum and grant proposal was shaped by Bailey and other key collaborators, including 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.