Goals and General Description

Ensuring the Success of Under-represented Groups in STEM Learning Environments
The 2003 PKAL Assemblies
What Works - What Matters - What Lasts: The Roles and Responsibilities of Leaders in Undergraduate STEM

October 3 - 5, 2003


Application Deadline: September 10, 2003

It would be easy to claim that one of the most challenging contextual changes facing those intent on building strong 21st century undergraduate STEM learning environments is the increasing diversity of students coming on to our campuses as undergraduates. But, even recognizing the current reality of the changing demographics of American higher education, it is clear that attracting students from racial and ethnic minorities and women into the mainstream of science– as undergraduates and as professionals in S&T fields– is a persisting one, troubling academic leaders for many years. Our record is not impressive.

As Shirley Malcom, Director of Education and Human Resources– AAAS, declared at the 1st PKAL National Colloquium:

We must help students see themselves as part of the community of science. But that means we must be able to envision them there ourselves first. We have to help them find their understanding by sharing ours and by respecting their need for context. We must begin to see our introductory courses as an opportunity to recruit, not a place to weed out. If this is our last shot at providing a future President or a future Member of Congress with a view of science, what image do we want them to have? What do we want them to remember? I think we would agree that we want them to understand the quest, the dynamism and the energy of sciences, its place in our lives and its capacity to empower.
Women and minorities are the miner's canary signaling deeper problems in our programs. We must recognize that as the demographics change we are playing to a "tougher house." If we do nothing to rethink our programs and depend on old strategies of weeding out we face a troubled future.
– PKAL Volume I: What Works– Building Natural Science Communities. 1991

In plenary and break-out sessions at the PKAL Assembly at Rowan University, participants will examine the work of individuals, departments and institutions proven to be effective with students from groups currently under-represented in the study and practice of science. They will explore approaches to building and nurturing a campus culture in which diversity within the community of science (students and faculty alike) is sought and respected. Dr. Malcom's four R's serve as a template for this assembly:

  • Readiness: the set of K-12 experiences and connections at the K-16 and the 14 - 16 levels that prepare students for college-level study in STEM fields.
  • Recruitment: the set of activities at the institutional and departmental level that attract students into STEM classrooms and labs, into an undergraduate natural science learning community in which students are expected to succeed and aggressively supported in their efforts to do so.
  • Retention: the set of actions and programs that seek to hold student interest in science and technology as a career, and/or to bring them to understand the role of science in their everyday life.
  • Reconstruction: the process by which students are encouraged to persist, made aware that they have the potential to contribute as professionals to the ongoing development of science and technology and that their participation will reshape the processes and structures of the scientific community in this century.

Colleges and universities successfully addressing those "four R's" have moved the challenge of ensuring the success of all students into all levels throughout their campus community. Faculty and administrators understand their mutual responsibility for preparing graduates well-equipped for leadership roles as citizens and as professionals within the scientific and technological workforce.

In the process of addressing this challenge, these communities have asked critical questions:

  • What is the record of student success in STEM fields on our campus; where are the points of significant attrition?
  • Who is succeeding and how do we know?
  • What are the campus-wide policies and practices that reduce or enhance the potential for student success in the study of STEM fields?
  • Where are the models of effective practices– within and beyond our campus– that provide roadmaps for our faculty, departments and administrators toward shaping an environment in which all students are encouraged to succeed?
  • What is our collective vision for student learning?

How campuses responded to those questions will be at the heart of assembly sessions, describing:

  • Collaborations and partnerships– with K-12 institutions, with business and industry, and with academic institutions at all levels, including two- and four-year and research institutions– that provide an informed network of support for students at all stages in their STEM learning.
  • Pedagogical approaches, including early introduction of discovery-based learning reflecting an awareness of insights on how people learn emerging from research in cognitive science.
  • Content that introduces students to the connection between what they are learning in the classroom and to the world beyond the campus, reflecting an awareness that learning in context is a most powerful motivator to persist and succeed.
  • Decisions about policies and practices that affect the institutional climate and culture, including development of faculty and staff, shaping of curriculum, facilities and budgets.
  • The process of assessment and evaluation, determining if and how approaches, policies and practices are making a difference– and to whom?

Participants will work throughout the weekend, reflecting on these questions and the various models of promising practices presented in the sessions. All participants should leave with three agendas for action to implement in the coming months: the first a personal list of steps to take in his/her classroom and laboratory; the second an outline of activities at the departmental or institutional level; the third an agenda for building networks and partnerships that provide essential support for students and faculty including those between educational institutions K-16.