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Quality Education for Minorities/Mathematics, Science and Engineering Network

NIST is interested in this topic for several reasons. First, we recognize the value of a diverse U.S. workforce. We also know the value of having the public better appreciate science and technology as our world becomes much more technology-oriented. And it's obvious that our population is becoming much more diverse.

Not least important is our self-interest. We hope some of these students will choose to work at NIST some day based on their exposure to us. Sometimes, especially with undergraduates, we can get solid contributions to our mission during internships – even if they are with us just for the summer.

We have a variety of programs, both formal and informal, for students in grades 4-college. In many instances, we put special emphasis on under represented groups. We often team with other organizations, including non-profits, schools and other federal agencies. We also have our own programs.

Our activities sometimes rely on volunteers, but much of our effort is carried out as part of our daily work. Still, individual initiative – not institutional influence – is the driving force behind these efforts.

  • Tours. Our labs are a big attraction, and we run several hundreds of students through our labs each year. That includes recent special tours for students at Howard University, Prince Georges County high school teachers, and at-risk high school students.
  • Presentations. Many of our researchers visit classrooms; it's often more practical than getting large numbers of students to our labs. For example, our CARE (Career Awareness and Resource Education) Program in Boulder is very active in the Denver public schools. That includes several schools with predominately Spanish speaking students, which sometimes provide us with interpreters to make our involvement more effective.
  • Technology Learning Module. For students in grades 4-college, our Technology Learning Module program focuses on the application of math and computers to manufacturing. We use personal computers loaded with software similar to that used by companies to manufacture products, numerical control programming for directing the machine tools to manufacture the part, and simulation and modeling capabilities. This program started in 1992. As part of this effort, teachers from inner-city schools took part in a six week summer internship to critique the module. We thought this initiative would be most appropriate for older students, but some teachers at Patricia Robert Harris School in Southeast D.C. told us otherwise -- and they were right. We have worked with several schools in the District and we have some proposals to collaborate on similar activities with historically black colleges and universities.
  • Internships, fellowships and SURF. We have been very successful – though it has taken lots of hard work – to attract minority students to work in our labs during summers and throughout the year. Our Information Technology Laboratory staff has been particularly dedicated to this approach – and they are in a very competitive area, talent-wise. We have some great examples of how well this can work out. We even have been successful in getting solid contributions from high school students. It is the "IT" area, after all!
  • SURF. Our Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program has been perhaps our most successful formal, fellowship program – and it's growing. It began in 1993 with our Physics Laboratory and has expanded to our Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory. We hope the NIST Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory will be able to follow suit shortly. This program is jointly supported by the National Science Foundation and NIST. It is a 12 week program which provides hands-on research to undergraduates; they work directly with NIST research advisors. Students are encouraged to present their findings at national meetings – and to pursue their PhDs through NIST's collaborative programs with local universities. Participating students receive stipends ($3600), travel and housing allowances. SURF has had heavy participation by women (60%) , African Americans (34%) and Hispanic (23%) undergraduates. This summer we are expanding to have several teachers on site as an experiment. NSF is providing the funding.
  • PREP. We have a program in Boulder that encourages minorities and women to continue their education by providing lab experience and financial assistance to undergraduate and graduate students at local universities. Right now about 25% of the students are minorities and an equal ratio are women.
  • METCON. We're also involved with METCON, the METropolitan CONsortium for Minorities in Engineering. This organization offers programs to student in grades 7-12 to motivate them to pursue careers in engineering. We've hosted students during the summer, visited classrooms, and have helped with judging at various contests and taken part in career fairs.
  • TSTEP: Teacher Science and Technology Enhancement Program. This is a new program we were assigned to develop last year by Congress. The President's FY 2000 budget request includes $500,000 that will allow us to plan a program where we can make a real difference working with teachers. We've got some ideas, and we recently held a workshop where we convened educators to help us plan. One of the comments was a warning that we not simply focus our attention on the schools and students which already have a wealth of resources – and we are keeping that in mind. We are coordinating our early efforts with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to see if we can leverage a small amount of funding to make a big difference.

Each panelist has been asked a basic question: What are the characteristics of the program or strategy that we consider to be the most effective in supporting the education of members of groups under represented in mathematics, science, and engineering fields?

There IS no one program or strategy. We know that from experience and from educators who have advised us. Obviously, effective programs must be tailored for different age groups. A key lesson we have learned is that access makes a big difference, and we have to work to provide access to those schools/colleges with large populations of under represented groups. We have to do a lot of outreach to make these programs successful.

At the same time, we are more successful when schools have identified a single point of contact, an advocate, for their students to participate in programs. Accordingly, we recommend that smaller colleges and schools consider jointly using a single point of contact.

Another key lesson we have learned is that teachers need greater support from their own administrators and from outside experts in trying new technology in the class room. That's why we're hopeful about our planned Teacher Science and Technology Enhancement Program, which will focus on teachers.

Created October 16, 2009, Updated October 25, 2016