Back in 1986, as Florida A&M University Developmental Research School (FAMU DRS) students, Clayton Clark II, Ph.D., Jason Black, Ph.D., and Tiffany Wilson-Ardley, Ph.D., took science classes during a FAMU summer excellence program for high school students. During the program, their facilitators challenged them to be creative, strive for excellence and to pay it forward. Twenty-six years later, the FAMU DRS alums have answered that call.
Now assistant and associate professors at FAMU, the trio was recently awarded more than $700,000 in grant dollars by the U.S. Department of Education to assist the university in attracting underrepresented high school students and encourage them to pursue and excel in careers in STEM disciplines. The group's mission is to develop and strengthen research, leadership, and critical thinking skills among youth.
The Program of Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (PE-STEM) grant is funded under the Department of Education’s Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program (MSEIP). The $700,000-plus grant will be funded over three years and will be used to establish a rigorous pre-college bridge program that focuses on research and critical thinking in the sciences.
The Program of Excellence will recruit high school juniors and seniors from area schools to attend a five-week, intensive summer workshop. The summer program will be comprised of courses in the STEM areas, research opportunities with undergraduate students, graduate students and STEM faculty, research lab tours and presentations. Participants will also attend monthly sessions during the academic year and be able to return in future summers for more intense research.
“We were compelled to bring this idea to FAMU because of the lack of students pursuing careers in STEM,” said Black, associate professor of management information systems in the School of Business and Industry. “The latest data shows that out of all U.S. incoming freshmen declaring a major in STEM disciplines, African Americans make up a lower percentage of the numbers than of other groups. We will fall far behind in the 21st Century and 'Technology Age' without these skills to scaffold us.”
Wilson-Arderly said the small representation of African Americans in the STEM fields inspired her to get involved.
“The statistics showing the lack of African-Americans in STEM disciplines is alarming,” said Wilson-Ardley, an assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “We agreed that we must to do something to improve the trends. Having our own STEM interests cultivated through a program such as this [while in high school] made wanting to offer the same opportunities to others a 'no brainer.'”
According to Clark, motivation to apply for the grant was a result of remembering the seeds that were sown into him and his colleagues by geneticist Lynette Padmore, Ph.D., and 3M Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Ralph Turner, Ph.D., who were directors and mentors of the original summer excellence program in the '80s.
“We have been blessed to have received mentorship in the areas of STEM in our formative years, so it is only fitting that we be a blessing to future students who may desire to pursue STEM education and careers,” said Clark, principal investigator for the grant and professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “We want to reach back and assist other kids, who are just like us, in realizing their dreams of being scientists and researchers, just like we were able to do.”
Applications for the PE-STEM program can be requested by contacting: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (850) 412-7354.