Pre-MAP: building diversity in STEM

Today I'm putting up a guest-posting on behalf of a program being run in the UW Astronomy department. While this isn't the fun-with-data content most people look for on this site, it fits neatly under my other interests (astronomy and academia).

In brief, the department has focused on recruiting underrepresented students in their first year at UW. Of course being scientists they're also interested in how effective this program has been, and have written a short paper outlining some summary data-driven lessons.

Since its creation by astronomy graduate students in 2005, the Pre-Major in Astronomy Program (Pre-MAP) at the University of Washington Department of Astronomy has made a concentrated effort to recruit and retain underrepresented and low-income undergraduates interested in fields pertaining to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). About 90 students have participated; many have gone on to major in physics, astronomy, or other STEM fields.

The program begins in the fall (nominally in the students' first quarter at UW) with a keystone seminar where they learn astronomy research techniques (computer programing, paper reading, etc) and then apply their skills to research projects conducted in small groups. During this time, students work closely with research mentors (professors, post-docs, graduate students) as they learn what it really means to be a scientist. At the end of the quarter, each group presents their work to the astronomy department. Many students continue working on their research projects after the seminar ends.

Beyond the seminar, Pre-MAP provides many other resources for our students such as a collaborative “cohort” atmosphere, one-on-one academic mentoring, guided tours of research labs across campus, and a yearly field trip to an astronomical observatory. The idea is that by giving students early exposure to research within a collaborative and supportive community we will not only give them the skills necessary for success in STEM fields, but also allow them to gain confidence and enthusiasm for science.

But does the program actually accomplish these lofty goals? To look at this, we use data from the last 8 years of Pre-MAP students to evaluate the program and compare our students to the general UW population. We succeed in attracting students with a range of ethnicities and math backgrounds. Our students perform similarly to the overall UW population both overall and in the sciences. We find that STEM retention depends strongly on math placement and performance. However, even when controlling for these variables our students are significantly more likely to pursue STEM degrees than their peers. The entire paper can be found on the ArXiv.

Want to know more about Pre-MAP, including obtaining resources to help start a similar program at your institution?
Visit our website
Or send us an email!  mjt29 [at], sterrs [at], schmidt [at]

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