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S.T.E.M. Coming Alive this Summer at HT

AUSTIN — Long before hit movies, Marvel’s Black Panther and Hidden Figures, featured people of color in S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) career fields, HT-based Austin Pre-Freshman Engineering Program (AusPREP) blazed a trail.  For over 20 years on Huston-Tillotson University’s (HT) campus, HT and its partners have inspired scores of middle and high school students every summer to become scientists and engineers.  Since June 11, the 2018 AusPREP has been off and running to build on its legacy of success with S.T.E.M.  The program runs until July 26. 

Nearly 100 seventh to tenth-grade students from eleven school districts spanning the Austin area, mostly from racial backgrounds underrepresented in S.T.E.M. fields, enroll in the annual summer program to learn more about such career fields. 

During the program, students engage with instructors in courses such as logic, engineering, algebraic structures, computer science, probability, and statistics. There also are activities such as a recent ice cream exercise in which students made ice cream for a lesson in thermodynamics.  And as a great benefit, students earn high school credit for the program’s courses. 

Intertwined with instructors are STEM professionals for the career awareness component of the program.  With the help of the professionals, students get to see and hear how they can transfer the theories and lessons from the classroom to the profession.

The program’s goals are: to strengthen student’s abilities to solve problems, conjecture, and apply mathematical knowledge; provide an academically challenging and enriching program centered on math and science to traditionally underrepresented students, and increase student participants’ awareness of S.T.E.M. careers. 

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s website (www.ed.gov/stem), it also is the country’s goal to improve education in S.T.E.M. and increase minority representation in such career fields.

The United States has developed as a global leader, in large part, through the genius and hard work of its scientists, engineers, and innovators. In a world that’s becoming increasingly complex, where success is driven not only by what you know, but by what you can do with what you know, it’s more important than ever for our youth to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to solve tough problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information. These are the types of skills that students learn by studying science, technology, engineering, and math—subjects collectively known as STEM.

All young people should be prepared to think deeply and to think well so that they have the chance to become the innovators, educators, researchers, and leaders who can solve the most pressing challenges facing our nation and our world, both today and tomorrow. But, right now, not enough of our youth have access to quality STEM learning opportunities and too few students see these disciplines as springboards for their careers.

For example, we know that only 81 percent of Asian-American high school students and 71 percent of white high school students attend high schools where the full range of math and science courses are offered (Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, calculus, biology, chemistry, and physics). The access to these courses for American Indian, Native-Alaskan, black, and Hispanic high school students are significantly worse. Children’s race, zip code, or socioeconomic status should never determine their STEM fluency. We must give all children the opportunity to be college-ready and to thrive in a modern STEM economy.

We also know that only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in math and interested in a STEM career. Even among those who do go on to pursue a college major in the STEM fields, only about half choose to work in a related career. The United States is falling behind internationally, ranking 29th in math and 22nd in science among industrialized nations. What’s more, a recent survey revealed that only 29 percent of Americans rated this country’s K-12 education in STEM subjects as above average or the best in the world. In our competitive global economy, this situation is unacceptable.

Therefore, HT continues on track with helping the country achieve its goal of an increased pool of STEM professionals. 

HT thanks all supporters and sponsors that include National Instruments, 3M, Applied Materials, Texas Department of Transportation, and the Central Texas Food Bank. 

If anyone wants to get involved with AusPREP, the program can be reached via email at ausprep@htu.edu.  Dr. Karen Magid is the program’s site director and an HT professor and director of STEM and sustainability. 

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Guest teacher, Emmanuel Onyema of NXP, walks students through a computer science exercise.