The Great Diseases: Bridging biomedical career exploration, competency building and mentoring

  • Abstract

    In 2019 many bioscience and health related jobs are going unfilled, not only because too few STEM degrees are being granted (not all of these jobs require degrees) but also because adults either lack key competencies in thinking analytically and solving STEM-related problems or cannot apply them to STEM fields. Moreover, minority and under-resourced communities are disproportionately under-represented, in large part because they lack access to role models and information about what the careers entail. High school, where entire cohorts of the US population gather to learn together for the last time, is an obvious venue in which to develop these capacities and increase participation from all communities. Our long-standing partnership with teachers in the majority/minority Boston Public Schools has developed a curriculum for 10th-12th graders that targets these competencies. Teachers who have been supported in learning to teach these novel concepts are able to significantly increase student engagement and analytical and problem-solving abilities from a large number of diverse schools and independent of the gender and ethnicity of the students, fostering their confidence in learning about health topics. However, this curriculum is not designed to integrate career awareness into competency building. In this project we aim to capitalize on the partnerships, infrastructure and evaluation tools we have already deployed successfully to create a new curriculum and professional development model: It has three phases: (1) We will create and implement new curricula that tightly integrate career awareness with competency building to improve student self-efficacy and outcomes expectations, critical first steps toward selecting a bioscience career. The curriculum will also provide extensive teacher professional development support. (2) We will develop new online dual-enrollment courses in which students can gain college credits while still in high school. The courses will incorporate with skills and strategies needed for a successful transition to independent learning environments into cutting-edge biomedical science topics. (3) We will provide students with financial support so they can participate in our intensive residential college awareness and readiness program and will optimize their success with near-peer mentor support before, during and after participation.