published June 1, 2007

SENCER E-Newsletter, June 2007, Volume 6, Issue 9

A National Academics Workshop Report: Encouraging and Supporting Minorities in the Pursuit of Biomedical and STEM Research Careers

Karen Kashmanian Oates - SENCER Co-PI and Advisory Committee Member

Over 200 interested educators, scientists, administrators and researchers assembled last month at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to discuss the most current research related to how to effectively encourage minorities to pursue biomedical and STEM careers and how to construct programs and initiatives to remove the obstacles to participation. The workshop, organized by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) under a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), brought together faculty, researchers, scientists, and a host of interested officials from the U.S. Department of Education, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the National Science Foundation.

Kim Kashmanian-Oates

The Challenge At a time when the US faces a decline in the proportion of students entering STEM disciplines, a national panel was assembled to convene a community of scholars to assess research and evidence about intervention programs that aim to increase the inclusion, preparation, and success of women and other underrepresented groups in STEM disciplines, particularly biomedical research careers. As a nation we depend on the creativity, innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit sustained by a diverse and productive science and technology workforce. Although women and minorities have made great strides in becoming part of the biomedical and STEM disciplines, they are still underrepresented at every degree level along the education pathway. Participants in the workshop urged universities to undertake more active research using the tools of research design often employed in the social sciences.

A Workshop Response An Advisory Committee was assembled by the National Academy of Sciences under contract with the National Institutes of Health. The Committee sought from the participants and distinguished panelists ideas, strategies, and methodologies that have demonstrated, though the use of evidence and data, promising programs and initiatives which attract and retain minority student in biomedical and STEM research careers. The workshop brought together experts from a range of disciplines that study and/or direct programs with this goal in mind. The purpose was to share perspectives as well as evidence, to assess what works for whom and in what setting, and to expand the community of interest that is committed to understanding and influencing the career choices of those who represent a growing proportion of the student talent pool. "Several programs across the country have been able to increase the number of minority [students with] science PhDs," said Daryl Chubin, AAAS director of the AAAS Center for Advancing Science & Engineering Capacity and committee member "But with formal research methods, we will be able to determine why certain programs are more effective than other." SENCER Co-PI Karen Kashmanian Oates commented, "When we think of encouraging more engagement in the STEM fields, especially for underrepresented minorities, we can't teach like we always did, use the same curriculum that has been used for years. We know so much more now about our how students learn. We need to capture what really matters to them. Teaching a course called Cancer has a greater application than a course called Cell Biology, yet the content taught in each is the is the same. Why not drive curriculum in this direction?"

Representatives of the biomedical industry, researchers from the social and behavioral sciences, and practitioners who specialize in program design, evaluation, and technical assistance served as workshop facilitators and panelists who met to discuss evidence based research from a number of important social indicators such a identity threat, self efficacy, career choice motivator and peer and family influences. The agenda was far-ranging, ambitious, and practical: how to convert what we know into more effective interventions, then how to document and share widely the results.

Expected Outcomes It was clear that regardless of one's disciplinary focus, what is occurring in one of the STEM fields is relevant to all fields, yet there is no clearinghouse for such research-based, student-focused interventions. This workshop, the first of which we hope will be several gatherings of a community of scholars, laid the foundation for the development of such a resource.