Grant to empower underrepresented students in STEM

Dr. Simonsen in a purple UW jacket and white shirt next to another image of Dr. Key in a black blazer and shirt standing next to a telescope

Over the spring of 2020 Assistant Professor Joey Key (Physics) and Professor Linda Simonsen (Mathematics) were awarded an internal University of Washington grant focusing on empowering underrepresented students in STEM including women, ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, individuals from low-income backgrounds, and first-generation college students.

They are working with the UW Center for Evaluation & Research for STEM Equity (CERSE) to study the experiences of the UW Bothell STEM Public Outreach Team (SPOT) student ambassadors. The project grew out of Dr. Key’s experience working with SPOT programs at Montana State University and the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational waves (NANOGrav) collaboration.

Recruiting and training SPOT ambassadors

Dr. Key has established a small Space Public Outreach Team (SPOT) program at UW Bothell, training undergraduate students to give presentations about gravitational wave astronomy to schools and community groups, following a model developed by the Montana Space Grant Consortium (MSGC). Ten UW Bothell students have been certified as student ambassadors and have provided presentations and activities for local schools and outreach events, including weekly presentations for the 2019 Pacific Science Center (PSC) summer camps.

The new UW Bothell SPOT program will recruit and train students from a variety of majors and will provide senior students leadership, management, and mentoring experience. The team will focus on presentations and activities for regional community colleges as these institutions have a diverse student body that reflects the broad demographics of our region, and community college students also make up a significant proportion of UW Bothell transfer students.

Strengthening relationships in the region

The UW Bothell SPOT program has the potential to build community partnerships with K-12 schools, community colleges, and STEM educations programs. This new campus community engagement program for students, faculty, and staff will partner with the UW Bothell Community Engagement Council to reach across schools and disciplines. There is great potential to connect with UW Bothell alumni who are teachers or coordinate education programs in the region.

The funding received will directly support one undergraduate student SPOT program manager and six new SPOT student ambassadors trained to give presentations about current UW Bothell STEM research to regional community colleges. The evaluation of their experience will identify and strengthen factors that contribute to the persistence and success of underrepresented groups in STEM fields.

Inclusive campus culture

This project will impact recruitment and retention of students from underrepresented groups in STEM as well as expand their opportunities after graduation and ultimately contribute to an inclusive campus culture at UW Bothell.

The outcomes will support campus research groups building diverse undergraduate research teams and will provide a framework for education, outreach, and broader impacts in research grant proposals. Working with the UW Bothell Community Engagement Council, this project will additionally build connections across campus and in the community including K-12 schools, community colleges, and STEM education programs.