STEM Initiatives

U Texas El Paso Partners with High School on STEM with Hefty NFS Grant

The University of Texas at El Paso has received funding to support its efforts to connect STEM-oriented graduate students with kids in K-12. The five-year, $2.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will pay for development of a new program at the university called NSF Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education.

A recruitment effort is just beginning to woo new minority doctoral students in NSF-supported disciplines, such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The doctoral students designated as fellows will serve as a STEM resource for science teachers at El Paso's Transmountain Early College High School and as mentors for the students.

The high school, which opened in 2008, has a mission of reaching out to young people currently underrepresented in higher education, enabling them to earn up to two years of college credit in addition to their high school diploma, and providing them with the skills to increase their success in college. A major focus is placed on STEM education.

"This success in securing federal funding from the National Science Foundation is a good example of the quality of competitive proposals [our] faculty generate, integrating education and research benefiting our students and consistent with [the university's] mission," said Roberto Osegueda, vice president of research and sponsored projects.

The fellows will help develop the high school's science curriculum around the theme "Science for a Sustainable Future," with a particular focus on the Southwest. Among the topics to be addressed are:

  • Limited water resources in a changing climate;
  • The potential for alternative energy resources;
  • A rapidly growing, diverse population and environmental health issues in a multi-national community; and
  • Geological hazards facing the region.

"The idea is to give these students real exposure to the scientific challenges of the region and hopefully inspire them to go into STEM fields," said Aaron Velasco, chair of geological sciences at the university, who is involved in recruiting incoming doctoral students for the program.

One of the goals of the new grant is to complement the current partnership between the university and the high school and to help students make the transition to a four-year university. U Texas at El Paso is one of the top three Hispanic degree-granting universities in the country. Total enrollment was about 20,000 in 2007, the school reported, of which 74 percent identified themselves as Hispanic. The high school reported 200 students, of which 74 percent also identified as Hispanic.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.