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BE STEM Center Gets Federal Grant to Boost Diversity in STEM Higher Education

Swanson School's Dr. Alaine Allen is part of interdisciplinary research team at Pitt

PITTSBURGH (September 17, 2019) ... A multidisciplinary Pitt research team will work with a national ecosystem of science, technology, engineering and math stakeholders to accredit precollege STEM programs and boost college enrollment for underrepresented students.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced it has awarded a $10 million INCLUDES Alliance grant to the team that makes up Pitt’s Broadening Equity in STEM (BE STEM) Center and the STEM Learning Ecosystem Community of Practice (SLECoP), a network of STEM programs and partners in 84 regions.

The five-year award makes Pitt the home base for the STEM Pathways for Underrepresented Students to HigherEd Network, a national collaborative of precollege programs, STEM educators, college admissions professionals and others committed to increasing racial and ethnic diversity in STEM. It will also support the creation of an accreditation model to communicate the validity of these precollege programs to college admissions officers.

“With the new NSF INCLUDES Alliance awards, we continue to expand our national network of partners who are helping us build a more diverse, inclusive, innovative and well-prepared STEM workforce,” said Karen Marrongelle, head of NSF’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources.

The award continues work done through a 2017 NSF INCLUDES Design and Development Launch Pilot Grant awarded to Alison Slinskey Legg, principal investigator, co-director of the BE STEM Center and director of outreach programs in the Department of Biological Sciences, and Alaine Allen, co-principal investigator, co-director of the BE STEM center and director of K-12 outreach and community engagement at the Swanson School of Engineering.

Under the 2017 grant for $300,000, Slinskey Legg, Allen and a team from across the University created an accreditation system for Pitt precollege STEM programs that would be recognized by the University’s admissions office. Slinskey Legg said the latest grant will go towards creating a model that can be applied nationally.

“Ultimately, this work will decrease the distance between STEM precollege programs and college admissions offices and forge a new, more equitable pathway for racially and ethnically underrepresented students to access higher education in STEM,” she said.

The team will work to create a set of best practices that aims to grant STEM precollege programs accreditation through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. That accreditation will give college admissions officers a means to measure the program’s value when evaluating students for acceptance.

Precollege programs such Pitt’s INVESTING NOW have played an important role in exposing students of color to college and STEM opportunities, said Allen. “Developing a system to connect these initiatives to admissions is our opportunity to honor the legacy of the pioneers who created these programs,” Allen said.

Efforts will begin with STEM education programs that are part of SLECoP network in Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area. Those programs will come together to create a vibrant, collaborative learning network designed to strengthen and leverage standards that are known to support strong student outcomes. Once standards are finalized and the first round of programs receive accreditation, efforts will be expanded to six additional urban areas by the end of the grant cycle.

Allen and Slinskey Legg will work with co-principal investigators David Boone, assistant professor of biomedical informatics at the School of Medicine and director of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Academy; Jennifer Iriti, a research scientist at the Learning Research and Development Center; and Jan Morrison, co-founder of SLECoP. The multidisciplinary team also features representatives from the Center for Urban Education in the School of Education and the School of Computing and Information.


Author: Deborah Todd, University Communications

Contact: Deborah Todd