Using Communication: Supporting Participation from Groups Historically Underrepresented in STEM

This page was developed as a synthesis of lessons learned by participants during an NSEC working meeting and is part of an extended set of toolkits for STEM Education Centers.

Main Themes
  • Centers can be creators of information and also facilitators for communication for stakeholder-to-stakeholder communication.
  • Multi-scale and multi approach communication strategies - maybe also combined with programming - are used together to move the needle on these participation goals. Coordinated strategies involve multiple stakeholders Read on>>
  • Centers have a maybe unique opportunity to highlight for our institutions the value of supporting a diverse institutional community (where this is needed) and also Read on>>

Centers as Creators and Facilitators of Information for Stakeholder-to-Stakeholder Communication

A Center needs to identify and recognize the different constituents that could interact and determine how best to communicate with each one. Data and stories are compelling to many audiences and can be good evidence for stakeholders to carry your message to their networks. However, not all audiences absorb information through the same channels or formats. As a result, a Center must have a diverse array of communication channels that fit their target audiences, remain updated, and are timely disseminated.

List of Potential Stakeholders in Communication with Center

Ideas for Potential Partners »

  • Industry
  • Faculty in STEM departments
  • Administration
  • People who do student support on campuses
  • 2YC and 4YC institutions
  • Students interested in STEM but may not see themselves in STEM or do not yet see what their full range of career options are
  • URM students (all meanings of this)
  • Global campus students and the people delivering this content

Communication Formats and Conventions

More on telling your story»

  • Data should be presented in an easy to read format without a lot of statistics and easily interpreted by multiple interested groups
  • E-mails sent directly to people who can do things. Listservs can spread the work, but direct communication can have more immediate impact and compelling
  • Presentations to community members (industry, K-12 partners, other targeted groups) with outcomes and a specific ask (something the Center wants to communicate)
  • Group face-to-face conversations at statewide meetings and luncheon discussions - with the goals of informing what is already happening and to generating a common vision with the next steps forward
  • Peer mentoring opportunities that occur via media defined by the students as they use the language that they casually use with each other. As long as the message is consistent, this may create relationships that are more impactful than the short amount of time they would have with an advisor and sets up a system of mentor and mentees as students move through the program
  • Fora where faculty hear from students, former students, other faculty, and invited speakers
  • Individual conversations with ambassadors or boundary-spanners who can repeat connections and promote the Center
  • "Family in STEM" nights at the museum to make sure the students support network is involved in their learning about pathways and they have the understanding about what a STEM pathway involves.

Digital story telling
  • The Story Center at Berkeley aims to create spaces for listening to and sharing personal stories. Students are your Center might be willing to share something public that describes their story. Stories could be about their own stories, or about stories people have conveyed to them about how their lives changed.
  • Story Collider - People sharing their different experiences with science.
Another example is a Learning Assistant Program where undergraduates act as peer facilitators in class and are associated with factors that improve persistence for underrepresented groups (and improving outcomes for all students).
The Michigan Players - A theater troupe focused on improving teaching, learning, and institutional climate through skits with faculty as the audience.
The Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Virginia produce videos with faculty on the impact of their Course Design Institute. Read more>>
Use social media to advertise courses, post stories, achievements, pictures and stories around campus. Any communication format to get the information and message out

Facilitating Information

A Center may interact with each of its constituents in different capacities depending on the constituent's needs and the scale of the constituent's participation. As a result, a Center can facilitate information and interact with its constituents in various capacities such as disseminating information, consulting, partnering as a researcher, and providing evaluation services.

A Center can provide information to incoming and current students about STEM opportunities and the support system that the Center can provide over the course of their college career. Incoming students that may be interested in STEM disciplines, but don't know the range of careers available after graduation. A Center can provide information about the range of careers and the pathways to get there. Additionally, students may change their intended major or their target career and need to know alternative career pathways. Lastly, some stakeholders may have a need for student support and guidance, but do not have the knowledge or skills necessary. A Center could then provide support in the form of immediate consulting and advising, or professional development for a long-term partnership.

Beyond the individual, departments may require consultation or evaluation regarding curriculum development and general information related to STEM education. These conversations can move beyond dissemination of information towards mediating conversations among STEM and Discipline-Based Education Research (DBER), Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) people, and faculty who could be employing the results of that research. Conversations among these constituents could be facilitated by a Center as a place of mutual interests and connections to past success stories.

In a similar capacity, a Center can mediate conversations with K-12 teachers that are already participating and they need to communicate to their peers. The Center can then provide additional context or messaging that supports the teachers in passing along the tools, resources, and ideas they have acquired. For example, a Center could create talking points for change agents that will be deployed as ambassadors whether they are K-12 teachers, students, faculty, or administrators.

People who are already doing impactful programming (2YC partners, advisers, etc.) could be engaged to provide evidence of success and experience, which could be utilized as a common message to potential students. A Center can bring together stakeholders that may not typically communicate or immediately identify as having overlapping interests. Opportunities could be conceived to allow for people to create and grow relationships where communication or programming (disciplines, organizations, parts of a university, different institutions, 2YC-4YC, etc.) will be valuable for both/all partners involved.

Utilizing Multi-scale and Multi-Approach Communication Strategies

The constituents and stakeholders of a Center will have varying priorities and represent different sized entities. This creates an opportunity to align a Center's mission with its stakeholders and build a structure that works across multiple scales, and potentially scaffolding projects to create a system of feedback. Active participation is a fundamental goal of Centers and could be further accomplished by combining multi-scale and multi-faceted communication strategies with programming. These tasks will include using the Center to create content, distribute information, and facilitate conversations with and among stakeholders.

Multi-Scale Communication Strategies

Center communication may occur at the Individual, Center, Department, Institution, Inter-institutional, and International scales. Each of these will have their own challenges and require consideration of what the goals are at each level, if and how they may be related, and the best course of action to reach the target goals.

Center focus must consider adapting new programming as expectations evolve over time. The mission of the Center may change over time in relation to the home institution and the completion of past initiatives. As a result, your center may expand or prioritize new services, partnerships, or support mechanisms.

Institutions may need help adapting themselves to include structures that are not the historic/dominant culture but inclusive of the students' culture(s) that are in the demographic of students who are potential students. Programs in development or restructuring will want to consider industry needs for students coming out of STEM programs. By understanding industry needs, STEM programs can create a structure that will produce students with the skills, experience, and competencies that will make them competitive in the job market. Moreover, the Center will have a better understanding of how to provide career guidance for students and show the range of possible careers. The faculty may need help in understanding how campus climate issues are impacting student performance in class. They may not realize or understand why instructors should care or feel that this is relevant. Identifying faculty member candidates who might be boundary-spanners and bring them into networks where they can be effective as change agents, especially where individual goals match the Center/organizational goals. The student body itself can become a change agent by helping students see themselves as potential STEM teachers no matter their background.

Departments may be interested in bringing any URM students students into upper division STEM classes where enrollment has been low. A Center can provide faculty/instructors help with using inclusive teaching in service to having URM students in upper division classes. One idea is to recruit 3-4 teachers from each of the major schools in the region to participate in a preparation program to become change agents in their respective school. A network of schools or similar departments can provide a cohort of individuals sharing ideas and strategies to influence their respective programs and departments. Within departments, faculty and administrators could respond well to evidence and research based findings that daylight and highlight best practices for a inclusive system.

The Center for Education Innovation and Learning in the Sciences acts as an "incubator" to redevelop core intro courses to work towards greater success for all students, and in particular those from underrepresented groups. One course that is doing this well is a new Mathematics for Life Sciences course which teaches modeling (with some calculus) using examples from biology. Additionally, assessment of impact across different student groups is integrated into these curriculum developments.
The STEM Accelerator at George Mason runs a Learning Assistants Program and uses it to work towards greater success for all students.

Individuals within an institution will be major players in creating change at every level and institution types: K-12, 2YC, 4YC, etc. Individuals could consist of faculty members, administrators, graduate students, post-docs, and staff. Support can be provided to people who do Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) and make connections between good pedagogy and lowering barriers to student success. Change initiatives can begin with individuals that already do SOTL or in a position of crossing boundaries.

In any of these institutions, helping students see what options are for career paths in STEM will be a common theme. Some faculty may need to move their student support away from generating majors, and focus on the student and supporting their career pathways. Completion with a purpose is something the university is moving towards and funding agencies may be there.

Faculty candidates identified as potentially being helpful in breaking down silos, could be supported by bringing them into networks that will help distribute a Center's message towards a collective mission. Additionally, faculty participation could increase by ensuring that their participation is beneficial to the their career path and interests. Also, faculty attention can be gained by pointing out where the gaps are between URM and majority students in a way that is really personal to faculty and something they can act on, but must be sensitive to not release the information to the public in a way that can be threatening.

Identifying individuals with networks that can spread your message or those with influence (e.g., deans, provost, other administrators) will be good candidates to find large scale support. A Center can also focus on post-docs to act as change agents at multiple institutions they may work with in the present and future. Furthermore, post-docs and graduate students are potential faculty members of the future and instilling them with your Center programming will prepare them to integrate that information into their scholarship and teaching as they continue with their careers and move on to other institutions. Additional support may be in the form of pedagogy workshops to have faculty, post-docs, and graduate students to use inclusive pedagogy.

The Wright State Model for Engineering Mathematics Education has seen high success increasing the number of students graduating with STEM degrees by redefining the way in which engineering mathematics is taught at the introductory level. Read more>>
The CTE at the University of Virginia put together a blog post on their Center's website for faculty in STEM to understanding the importance and pathways to become more inclusive in their STEM instruction.
Faculty testimonial video vignettes directly on the websites about how a new structured teaching experience went can be a powerful message that resonates with other faculty.

Inter-institutional level initiatives may entail helping STEM demographics move closer to the more diverse campus wide demographics or bringing a broader diversity (women, people of color, low SES, transfer students, first generation) of students into the early STEM program. Another thing to consider is developing initiatives through an equity lens versus a diversity lens. At the state level, programs could be developed to support an increase in the proportion of non-white teachers in K-12 STEM.

The University of Washington has a great collection of tools and resources for educators that address equity in STEM. For example, Indigenous Education Tools about STEM Teaching Tools. There are also one-pagers of activities that educators can implement in classrooms with many teaching tools focusing on specific equity issues.
A specific example for transfer students moving from 2yc to 4yc is offered by the Aspen Institute Transfer Playbook [endmediumsmall]

International scale Looking at global gaps in achievement in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). (style delivery and make this welcoming in a really big picture)
Journal article on Cultural Congruence Instruction

Centers have a potentially unique opportunity to highlight for their institutions the value of supporting a diverse institutional community

The role of a STEM Center at an institution can serve many different populations, groups, and individuals. Many times these constituents will have a large disparity of needs and priorities that coalesce within a Center. Therefore, the diversity of constituents and roles that a Center may play, give it a unique perspective and opportunity to highlight the value in supporting a diverse institutional community. This role may begin with being the voice for not adapting students to the institution tradition but the institution to the context and cultures of the students who are potential STEM students, but currently not included. The same idea could be applied to current students and programs by assessing whether goals are being met and determine new targets through an iterative process. Professional development opportunities for administrators, faculty, and staff can help them see their role in preparing students for careers and as the landscape changes. A Center could also support departments by conducting student outcome research and longitudinal studies to provide data and insight to how programs are progressing and if modifications need to be made. These data along with current literature and national trends can be used to communicate best practices with respect to teaching practices (inclusive pedagogy).

Western Washington University has an equity and inclusion series of workshops specifically targeted to STEM faculty members. Read more>>.

One of George Mason's efforts is to run two camps for incoming students (first-years) to prepare them for the STEM courses. The effort has been shown to increase retention for students in STEM. Incoming Student Camp Flyer (Acrobat (PDF) 3.4MB Jun7 18)

The University of Hawai'i at Manoa program has examples working with community colleges like Kapiolani Community College and Leeward Community College