In order to address the lack of diversity of STEM degree recipients, i-Trek (I Turn Research into Empowerment and Knowledge) has developed a program that aims to provide under-served and under-represented students with the skills and resources needed to succeed in STEM undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Closely related will be the outreach needed in middle and high schools to increase the interest and the pipeline for participation in STEM areas of study.
Our graduate degree program targets undergraduate students at smaller institutions with limited resources, as well as community colleges where opportunities such as conducting and applying research are not readily available. The program provides students with the necessary tools and opportunities to develop research, entrepreneurial, and leadership skills. Participants are placed in small, multi-disciplinary groups and are assigned mentor(s) with the experience and/or skillset related to their chosen research project. Together, they define a research project—one that is unrelated to their current focus area–and will be of such scope that it can be completed during the summer break. It is our expectation that these projects, known as “Treks” require students to leave their local area, and likely involve international travel. (This requirement allows the participant an opportunity to apply their skills in new fields of interest, experience new environments, and solve problems that hopefully will have a global impact; the result is a more diverse, well-rounded student who now has a head-start on applying solutions and impacting STEM-related challenges.
While the program funds a minimum of 50% of a given project, the participant/group should come up with several ways to raise most, if not all, of the needed funds. Traditional paths such as securing sponsors and submitting for grants will be encouraged; Non-traditional paths, such as crowd sourcing, will also be encouraged. The students will be highly supported in this effort by the i-Trek program and their mentor(s). For the students, the ultimate goal will be to complete their research project without using any of their own funds.
In addition to fundraising, students will be responsible for providing progress reports, and setting intermediate goals before their summer launch. However, launch is completely dependent on their work. The program enforces the need for students to take the initiative and make their research goals a reality. While the organization will provide guidance, the responsibility of the project lies solely with the students. When working in groups, they will be expected to assign each other leadership roles and hold each other accountable for making their project a success. These skills, such as leadership, teamwork and accountability, will directly translate to the skills they will need as future business leader.
Finally, after completing their project students will be required to complete a final presentation of their work along with findings/results. In an attempt to “pay-it-forward, the students will then take this presentation to neighboring high schools; the goal–to spark an interest in the STEM field. After presenting to a minimum number of schools, the participant’s commitment to the project is deemed complete. The program will also employ an adjunct effort, to increase the STEM pipeline; Kits, used to teach STEM concepts and give students hands-on experience, will be used during K-12 school site-visits to demonstrate the types of problems, and the impact that can be accomplished by pursuing higher level training in the STEM area. By using a combination of student experience and hands-on activities, i-Trek leaders hope to stimulate unprecedented interest in STEM related fields.