Student Competitions

New Program Rallies Low-Income Students To Compete in STEM Competitions

To win science research competitions, which often herald college studies and careers in STEM disciplines, students first need to enter. But low-income students may lack the support they need to participate in those activities.

Now the Society for Science & the Public (SSP) is piloting a new program specifically to recruit advisors who can advocate for those students. In its first year, the program expects to draw between 30 and 50 low-income students.

SSP is a non-profit that promotes public engagement in science and science education. Each year it runs several education competitions, including the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and the Intel Science Talent Search. The organization recently received a $100,000 grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, enabling it to pay out in $3,000 stipends to teachers, counselors and scientists — nine in all — to coach small groups of students in grades 6-11 in how to participate in science contests. The foundation supports the education of "exceptionally promising" students with financial need.

"We know students from low-income backgrounds can and do succeed in STEM fields when given [the] right support and opportunities, and we are committed to help pave the way for more career scientists from under-resourced populations," said Harold Levy, the foundation's executive director. "The SSP 'Advocate Grant Program' presents an extraordinary opportunity to create an ecosystem of support that will allow these students to thrive."

SSP CEO and President Maya Ajmera concurred with the need. "As an alum of SSP's...scientific competitions, I know the impact that applying to and participating in competitions can have on a young student. It increased my self-confidence, enhanced my public speaking abilities, and gave me great focus on my project. I believe that all students should have that opportunity. We hope that having a dedicated advocate to encourage and support these students will increase their rates of participation."

To qualify for the program, students must have conducted a research project within the last six months or be working on a project they want to use in a competition in the coming school year. The advocates will help them understand what competition opportunities are available and help them get through the application process.

The pilot participants for the advocate program includes representation from schools in Conyers, GA; Durham, NC; and Evanston, IL, as well as STEM organizations Environmentors, Project SEED, Stanford RISE and Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science.

About the Author

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