The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) “pipeline” that is imagined to guide students from middle school into successful STEM careers implies a single path. This path often requires students to develop an interest in STEM by middle school, choose particular math and science courses in middle- and high-school, and gain experience and exposure in STEM activities through their high school tenure. While successful for approximately 7% of students who entered 9th grade in 2001, this system has filtered out 93% of the population, including many students who might have had interest and potential to pursue STEM careers. Importantly, this pernicious systemic problem impacts students of color (African American, Hispanic American, American Indian and Alaska Native students) disproportionately. To address this challenge, Access Summer Program to Inspire Recruit and Enrich (ASPIRE) was designed to broaden the participation of students of color and students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds by inspiring and preparing them to pursue degrees in engineering and computing.
ASPIRE is a two-week residential summer outreach program with emphasis on the engineering and technology components of STEM to prepare high-school students with 21st century skills of critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. The program provides students with the confidence needed to enter the dynamic workforce of the future, which requires understanding of basic structure, materials and electrical design and computing. This program is guided by project-based learning, an experiential learning pedagogy that focuses on excitement, engagement, applying the scientific method and engineering process, and making a presentation to demonstrate mastery of these principles. ASPIRE introduces students to the fields of computer science and engineering. Students participate in hands-on group projects centered on the Internet-of-Things. The experiential learning experience provides students exposure to computer programming/coding, computer aided design, laser cutting, and 3D printing. Through ASPIRE, students are able to engage with their peers, form networks, and gain a sense of community. In the past two summers, 41 students have participated in the program. This paper provides details on the design and evaluation of the ASPIRE program.
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