NSF selects Southeast Campus STEM Center for $300,000 grant to support under-represented students
Photos and Story by Amy Bader
Portland Community College has received an important National Science Foundation grant to support equitable student success in its makerspaces.
PCC’s Southeast Campus STEM Center was awarded the $290,000 NSF Makerspace Guided Equitable Student Success (MGESS) grant. During the next three years, the center’s staff will develop new interventions and approaches to transform learning for diverse students in makerspaces.
The MGESS project is a partnership with Wind & Oar Boat School, a non-profit educational organization that engages young students in STEM through building wooden boats. PCC students in developmental math will have the opportunity to learn fundamental math principles by participating in boat-making activities. The hands-on co-curricular model allows students to complete their courses while gaining analytical and critical thinking skills.
One of the primary goals of the project is to broaden participation of underrepresented groups in makerspace environments. The project team will collaborate with underrepresented minority peer facilitators who will develop culturally relevant approaches. Plus, the team will engage with other makerspaces to appeal to students who may otherwise feel marginalized in a formal education setting.
Southeast STEM Center Coordinator Julia Betts has seen the importance of welcoming learners of all ages in the maker programming offered at PCC.
“Creating spaces where students feel safe to take risks and build mutual respect, and where students drive the learning means more meaningful engagement for everyone,” Betts explained. “It’s especially true for students who don’t always feel welcome or see themselves in the traditional math course.”
The peer facilitators will also take a leadership role in guiding diverse groups of the PCC students, instilling a sense of confidence and identity.
“Not only is it valuable for students to see their peers as facilitators and content experts, but it’s critical for student mentors to have the opportunity to reinforce their understanding of applying mathematical concepts,” Betts added. “This will be a great collaborative learning opportunity for both.”
In addition, the Southeast Campus STEM Center and its partners are working on creative ways they can begin programming virtually, in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Betts said they are working on a number of solutions to incorporate online and hybrid versions of the curriculum, as well as a flipped classroom model. The project team is ready to respond to the changing learning environment and to find ways to bring this learning opportunity to our students, she added.
At the completion of the project, the MGESS project team will assess their outcomes and share their findings with other educational institutions with the hope of reducing barriers and increasing student success for underrepresented minority students in makerspaces.