Fundamentally, diversity is essential for life and data has shown that diversity is also key to productivity in the business world. Yet, students from diverse backgrounds, namely underrepresented minorities, still struggle to find their place in STEM education. Our program seeks to increase the participation of underrepresented minority students, through authentic STEM experiences in genomics and bioinformatics, that will improve their chances for college entry and retention in STEM. We endeavor to meet this goal by introducing high school students to bioinformatics and genomics curriculum, providing research opportunities, and supporting college preparation activities.
The US has fallen behind several countries in STEM competiveness, where K–12 students are less proficient in science and math and earn fewer bachelor degrees in STEM than countries such as China and Korea. The maintenance of the US economy relies heavily on innovation and technology. As well as our health systems rely on the discoveries of scientists and physicians. Thus STEM and health are critical to our nations welfare. Improving the education and STEM experiences for all students, but namely underrepresented minorities (URM) is also critical to our economy and healthcare as our country is projected to become a majority minority nation. We are proposing a program that will prepare low-income, URM high school students for careers in STEM and health.
The Washington University Science Partnership Program will be housed at the McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, and will partner with the Jennings School District, a largely African-American school district in St. Louis County. In this project we have proposed two aims to address the critical need for improved STEM education for URM.
In Aim 1, we proposed to develop skills in these students in genomics and bioinformatics through authentic STEM experiences, both in class and through research internships. Science and health are approaching the era of personalized medicine due in part to the decoding of the human genome and the discoveries made as a result. However skilled persons in genomics and bioinformatics are in short supply compared to the demand and are especially lacking in URM groups. So this aim will seek to fulfill a direct need in science and prepare students for future, relatively lucrative jobs.
In Aim 2 we will conduct workshops that focus on college and job readiness in STEM that will walk students through the process of applying to college as well as introduce them to the wide variety of career options in STEM. In total our proposed program is poised to increase the number of URM, namely African-Americans who enter college in STEM fields and who are retained in STEM and obtain careers in these fields. Our program directly addresses national priorities in STEM education: providing authentic research experiences to K–12 students, engaging underrepresented students in STEM and enhancing the STEM workforce.