NSF Awards Advanced Technological Education Grant

photo (1)The iCREAT project, led by Massachusetts Bay (Mass Bay) Community College, is designed to recruit, retain, and prepare students from populations that are underrepresented in STEM to provide them with the opportunity to opt into a STEM career pathway. We are proposing the development of a longitudinal career pathway that starts in eleventh (junior year) grade and continues through obtaining certificates and/or an associate degree from Massachusetts Bay Community College. To that end, we propose a program that will engage high school-aged youth and community college students in learning electronics, coding, and engineering design through an interdisciplinary project-based approach that will serve as a launching point for them toward a technical career pathway. Our p
oposed work has multiple but interconnected components. First, we will develop and implement a new introductory, interdisciplinary pair of STEM courses that will be co-taught by faculty from different fields. These courses will be project based with the end goal of building a working teleprNSF_discoveries
esence robot. To support the students we have partnered with experts in science education, career development, and mentoring to develop a holistic approach in which all participating students are partnered with mentors via a web-based system (MentorNet), as well as with career counselors. These latter two components will provide students opportunities for STEM career discernment early in their careers and then be supported over time by their mentors.

We are bringing a wide array of expertise to bear on designing a program to recruit and retain students in a STEM career pathway. For example, we are bringing together STEM faculty at Massachusetts Bay Community College who have content expertise in engineering, computer science, and computer programming in collaboration with STEM Career researchers (Dr. David Blustein), science educators who specialize in designing learning environments (Dr. Michael Barnett), and an innovative web-based mentoring program through MentorNet (http://MentorNet.org/). This combination of expertise will allow us to develop a holistic program that not only supports students in the classroom but also through career counseling and mentoring by STEM professionals. In addition, we have partnered with key regional business organizations who are leaders in identifying and supporting students in finding internships and employment.

impacts of our proposed work revolve around our focus on recruiting and retaining students from underrepresented populations in science, including the creation of a web-based mentoring system designed to support and retain youth along a STEM career pathway. Locally, our proposed work fills a critical need for the state of Massachusetts. In fact, according to the recent Massachusetts Works report (2014) middle-skill jobs represent the largest share of available jobs in Massachusetts—about 45 percent. However, currently only 32% of residents have the training to fill those positions. In particular, in the area that Massachusetts Bay Community College serves there are significant shortages of entry level programmers, network engineers, and information technology management experts. Recently, the Massachusetts state government has requested that community colleges extend their programs to fill the gap being left by vocational schools (Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, 2013). Lastly, once the web-based mentoring system is well developed it can serve as a model (and be used) by any community college in the nation.