In order to address the lack of diversity among Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) degree recipients, i-Trek (I Turn Research into Empowerment and Knowledge) has developed a program that aims to provide underserved and underrepresented students with the skills and resources necessary to succeed in STEM undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Closely related, will be the outreach needed in middle and high schools to increase the level of 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 mentors with the experience and/or skill-set related to their chosen research project. Together, the student and mentor define a research project unrelated to their current area of focus. This selected field of study must be completed during the summer break and it is the expectation of i-Trek, that these projects, known as “Treks” will take place outside of the students local area or state and possible 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, 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 must find other ways to raise most, if not all, of the funds needed to complete their research project. Traditional paths such as securing sponsors and applying for grants are encouraged, as well as non-traditional paths, such as crowd sourcing. The i-Trek program and it’s mentors highly support all students in their fund-raising efforts, however the ultimate goal for the student, is to complete each research project without using any personal funds.
In addition to fundraising, students will be responsible for providing progress reports, and setting intermediate goals before their summer launch. However, launching is completely dependent on the 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 necessary to become successful business leaders.
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 in order 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.
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