NSF Funding Applies SIROW's Mentoring Expertise to STEM Education

By Diane Daly

Faculty from SIROW have been awarded National Science Foundation funding to employ a hybrid model for mentoring Hispanic and Native youth in STEM fields: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

Principal Investigator Sally Stevens and co-PI Rosi Andrade were awarded the three-year grant for over $1 million to develop i-STEM, a project that matches youth in grades 3 through 8 at two Tucson schools with mentors including professionals from STEM fields, University of Arizona students, and members of the students' communities.

“It’s a really exciting project because it has so many collaborators,” says Stevens. “SIROW is the lead but we are working with the College of Engineering, the College of Education, and the UA-WISE program. UA student mentors will be recruited primarily from the College of Science and the College of Engineering.” Stevens notes that a seed of the project has been SIROW’s decade-long relationship and past mentoring work with StrengthBuilding® Partners, a local non-profit organization serving families and local businesses that draws direction from emerging social sciences research.

SIROW's previous mentoring programs have involved at-risk youth, and focused on literacy and the relationship with the mentor, making the STEM focus a new area for Stevens and SIROW, yet one that fits within national directives. The National Science Foundation's ITEST Program, which is the basis of the i-STEM award, funds work toward solutions for the growing shortage of STEM professionals in the U.S. I-STEM's emphasis on both formal and informal science experiences offers a unique hybrid of two mentoring techniques that have been shown as efficacious, which Stevens sees as a unique aspect of this project. "We wanted to look at a program that has a synergistic effect," she explains.

I-STEM Program activities are based on four of fourteen "grand challenges" identified by the National Academy of Engineering: Energy and Environment, Health, Security, and Learning and Computation. The first i-STEM theme will address the Energy and Environment challenge by teaching students about solar energy and robots, Stevens says. "We will have small packets of the things that the mentors can do in school at the lunch hour with their mentees, activities that take about 40 minutes, twice a month. These activities will culminate in a field trip to the University, where Engineering students build a solar robot with them." The informal science component enables Stevens and her team to integrate the University of Arizona campus in the "vast majority" of mentoring activities. "A lot of these kids don’t have the opportunity to come to the University, to go to Biosphere. We want them to think of the University as their University. Walk the mall and be involved with the Engineering students, and provide momentum to have them stay excited about STEM."

According to the National Science Foundation website, NSF is the funding source for approximately twenty percent of U.S. university-based research. To search external funding opportunities including NSF grants with potential for the social and behavioral sciences, visit our Other Funding page.

Published Date: 

04/20/2012 - 15:09

Photo Credits: 

Photo by JSBarrie via Flickr
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