Many urban minority middle and high school students lack exposure to authentic laboratory science experiences that can have a profound influence on their academic performance in school and ultimately, their career trajectories. Since today’s students will determine our nation’s future scientific competitiveness and need to be intelligent evaluators of new science and health advances, we will test a new model of infusing afterschool biomedical/STEM enrichment into urban squash education programs. We will employ rigorous evaluation techniques, including well-matched comparison groups, to examine our hypothesis that embedding laboratory-based experiences into urban squash education programs and extended participation in such programs will positively impact diverse populations of students, promote their continued engagement in STEM, propel these students towards careers in the health professions and STEM fields, and ultimately improve the nation’s understanding of the scientific basis of human health and disease.
Boston University School of Medicine’s new SEPA project, entitled ‘CityLab and Urban Squash: A New Pathway to Achieve STEM Success,’ specifically addresses the SMRB’s imperative that ‘NIH’s pre-college STEM activities need a rejuvenated integrated focus on biomedical workforce preparedness with special considerations for under-represented minorities.’ Approximately one-third of CityLab’s participants are under- represented minority (URM) students, but we now have a unique opportunity to build a program that will reach many URM students and position them for undergraduate STEM success. We have partnered with urban squash education organizations in Boston (SquashBusters) and New York (CitySquash and StreetSquash) that recruit URM/low SES students to participate in afterschool squash training and academic enrichment programs. We have also partnered with the National Urban Squash and Education Association (NUSEA) to disseminate the new program- first from Boston to New York and later through its national network of affiliated squash education programs. In order to bring this project to fruition, Boston University is joiningforces with Fordham University in New York. Fordham is home to CitySquash so these organizations provide an ideal base for the New York activities. The proposed project will enable us to demonstrate feasibility and replicability within the 5 year scope of this grant. Our shared vision is to develop a national model for informal precollege biomedical science education that can be infused into a myriad of similar athletic/academic enrichment programs. The squash education movement for urban youth has been highly successful in enrolling program graduates in college. Since the academic offerings of the squash education programs focus on English Language Arts and Mathematics, their students struggle with science and rarely recognize the tremendous opportunities for long- term employment in STEM fields. This project will bring CityLab’s resources to local squash programs in a coordinated and sustained engagement to introduce students to STEM, specifically the biomedical sciences. Together with the urban squash centers, we will build upon the hands-on life science experiences developed and widely disseminated by CityLab to create engaging laboratory-based experiences involving athletics and physiology. The specific aims of the proposed project are: (1) to develop, implement, and evaluate a new partnership model for recruiting URM/low SES students and inspiring them to pursue careers in STEM and (2) to examine changes in the science learner identities (SLI) of the students who participate in this program and establish this metric as a marker for continued engagement in STEM. With the involvement of the two urban research universities, three local squash education programs, and NUSEA, we see this new SEPA initiative as a unique way to pilot, refine, and disseminate an after- school/informal science education program that can have a significant impact on the nation’s production of talented STEM graduates from URM/low SES backgrounds.