UMB CURE Connections: an integral link in a Baltimore minority STEM education pipeline

  • Abstract

    Individuals from underrepresented (UR) backgrounds comprise the fastest growing segments of the US population but make up only a small percentage of the biomedical research and healthcare workforce. Workforce diversification is essential to engage this underutilized resource and meet growing US demands in biomedical science and broader STEM fields. Distinct perspectives provided by a diverse workforce stimulate innovation and increase research quality, productivity and consideration of disparities issues. Efforts to realize these benefits of increased diversity in a sustainable manner must begin with early STEM education. To provide this early STEM intervention, the University of Maryland Baltimore Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (UMB CURE) Scholars program was developed to provide STEM educational enrichment for UR middle school (MS) students from severely disadvantaged West Baltimore communities. To address the multifactorial barriers to success faced by these students, a holistic approach was taken that leveraged the strong resources of UMB professional schools and partners to integrate robust scholar mentoring, family support, partner school curricula and community outreach. Data from the first two cohorts of scholars demonstrated the program’s positive impact on all stakeholders and indicated that early STEM intervention is an effective approach to engage students from disadvantaged backgrounds, reinforcing the need for such programming in West Baltimore. To build upon the success of the MS program and realize the potential of this early intervention, it is essential to foster the scholars’ continued engagement in science through the high school (HS) transition and progression to college. Indeed, extracurricular structure is particularly important during the HS transition years- years that can be academically and socially challenging for UR students from disadvantaged communities. However, programs to sustain this holistic educational support are lacking in the UMB CURE catchment area. To fill this gap, UMB CURE Connections (C2) will provide robust 9th and 10th grade programming as an integral component of a minority STEM education pipeline that connects UMB CURE MS scholars with strong HS STEM enrichment and a network of minority-focused college programs at UMB and its partner institutions through three specific aims: 1. Provide STEM enrichment curricula centered around culturally relevant themes that incorporate hands-on research, college and career path exploration, community outreach and conference presentations. 2. Utilize near peer and professional mentors from pipeline partners to excite scholars about science subjects and inspire them to pursue careers in these fields. 3. Evaluate outcomes to assess the effectiveness of program components in achieving its goals, develop best practices and disseminate this information. Together, C2 and its STEM education pipeline partners provide a path to college and STEM careers for UR students that will increase diversity in the biomedical workforce.

    PUBLIC HEALTH RELEVANCE: Diversity in the biomedical workforce stimulates innovation and increases research quality, productivity and consideration of disparities issues; however, underrepresented groups comprise only a small percentage of those employed in health science and broader STEM fields. Efforts to address the need for increased diversity and realize the benefits of a diverse workforce must begin with early STEM education. Toward this goal, the UMB CURE Connections program will provide robust STEM educational enrichment for 9th and 10th grade scholars from disadvantaged West Baltimore communities as part of a minority STEM education pipeline to college and careers in these fields.