Developing the next generation of dynamic science leaders from diverse student populations is the goal of a three-year, $500,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) award to the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).
An interdisciplinary UTSA project led by Janis Bush, a professor of environmental science and ecology, was one of 12 new projects funded by NSF's Innovations in Graduate Education (IGE).
The project, "Advancing and Strengthening Science Identity through Systematic Training (ASSIST)", is meant to produce an innovative graduate education model that can be transferred to other minority-serving institutions with student populations similar to those at UTSA.
Targeting students in the Department of Environmental Science and Ecology (ESE), the ASSIST program will cultivate student success in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduate education through three interventions: holistic mentoring, scientific writing, and public science communication.
Together these interventions provide the support and training necessary for graduate students to produce scientific research while also learning to communicate that research for effective community engagement and public leadership.
"We designed this interdisciplinary program to pilot, test, and validate innovative approaches to graduate education to increase the success of underserved student populations," said Bush, professor and chair of the UTSA Department of Environmental Science and Ecology. "We hope the knowledge and interventions from ASSIST will not only positively impact our broader community but also train leaders who will then advance diversification in the science fields."
A team of UTSA faculty from the College of Education and Human Development, College of Sciences and College of Liberal and Fine Arts will work together to develop this comprehensive program.
ASSIST will offer students a series of graduate courses, professional development workshops, and community engagement activities with partners such as, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, San Antonio River Authority, San Antonio Water System, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Edwards Aquifer Authority, and other non-governmental organizations.
"In addition to being competent scientists, we want ESE graduate students to develop strong writing and public communication skills for sharing their science expertise to a range of audiences across multiple forms of media," said Bush.
According to data from the NSF, historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, particularly African-Americans and Latinos, have lower representation in the science and engineering workforce than their representation in the U.S. population.
For example, Latinos, African-Americans, and American Indians or Alaska Natives together make up 27 percent of the U.S. population age 21 and older but only 15 percent of Ph.D.'s in science and engineering, and 11 percent of the science and engineering workforce.
"UTSA is a university of discovery, committed to the personal transformation and success of its students. This project will benefit the larger society by diversifying the science workforce with individuals possessing a broad knowledge base, strong communication skills, and exceptional leadership qualities," said Bush.
The UTSA team includes Bush, principal investigator (PI) and professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Science and Ecology, Amaury Nora, professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Sue Hum, associate professor in the Department of English, Kenneth Walker, assistant professor in the Department of English, Jeffrey Hutchinson, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Ecology, Gwen Young, lecturer in the Department of Environmental Science and Ecology and Juliet Ray, Director of Grant Services at Johns Hopkins University.
UTSA is ranked among the nation's top five young universities, according to Times Higher Education.
Learn more about UTSA College of Sciences.
Learn more about UTSA College of Liberal and Fine Arts.
Learn more about UTSA College of Education and Human Development.