Actualizing STEM Potential in the Mississippi Delta

Actualizing STEM Potential in the Mississippi Delta


More than 51 rural African American youth, grades 9-12, are engaged in pre-engineering activities in an after school program designed to prepare them for STEM majors, to include summer activities that create a STEM pipeline for students in lower grades.


This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students' motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) by investigating the effectiveness of an existing collaborative robotics program. The program will positively influence the engineering self-efficacy and orientation to STEM majors with African American students living in an underserved region of the United States, the Mississippi Delta. Students in this program are immersed in engineering design activities requiring the application of science and mathematics principles. The program model includes pre-engineering courses in computer science, computer aided drafting, and electronics. These are designed and facilitated by university faculty. Undergraduate seniors are trained by faculty and then serve as mentors. Engineering design activities, career orientation activities and robotics summer camps for elementary and middle school students are facilitated by high school faculty. At the beginning of the spring semester, students participate in an international robotics competition. This robotics program is year-long and occurs after school, and halfway through the year students enter their designs in a robotics competition. Beginning in the freshmen year, students are allowed to remain in the program throughout their years in high school. An understanding of the components that positively influence the African American students' beliefs about their abilities in STEM disciplines and their perceptions of their identification with STEM could be useful for understanding and decreasing the gap in STEM majors that exists with students from underserved populations in the United States.

This longitudinal mixed methods research study is designed to investigate the influence of engineering design and career orientation activities implemented in a collaborative robotics/pre-engineering program on African American students' self-efficacy, and scientific identity, to better understand factors influencing their achievement in STEM disciplines and orientation to STEM majors. This is a four year study, allowing the researchers to follow a group of students from freshman to the end of their senior year, so that key factors influencing the students' learning and achievement in the engineering course activities can be observed and documented during the peak years of decision making for college majors and careers. This study is unique in terms of its location and population of students, and because it is longitudinal and utilizes a mixed methods approach. While this study investigates the effectiveness of the program on the engineering self-efficacy, scientific identity and achievement of program objectives for students in this program, the findings of the study could also be valuable for informing initiatives devoted to increasing the numbers of students from other marginalized groups majoring in STEM fields. Quantitatively, this research employs pre and post measures to determine changes in students engineering self-efficacy and scientific identities. Qualitatively, field notes from classroom observations and interviews with the high school students provide data on specific program elements determined to be effective in positively influencing the African American students' achievement of program objectives and decisions to pursue STEM careers.


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2015 - 2021



Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University VA

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