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Landsharks to Astronauts: Towards a New STEM Culture of Excellence

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

College Industry Partnerships Division Technical Session 3

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College Industry Partnerships

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Paper Authors


Matthew Morrison University of Notre Dame

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Matthew A. Morrison is an Assistant Teaching Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Morrison received his Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of South Florida in 2014. He served as a Nuclear Electronics Technician in the United States Navy from 1999-2005. Dr. Morrison has published numerous papers on the use of adiabatic and reversible logic to mitigate differential power analysis attacks on smart cards, and the use of connected sensorimotors to monitor subconcussive head impacts in athletic environments and Spaceflight Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome. He received the Provost's Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Graduate Teaching Assistant at USF in 2012, the USF Spirit of Innovation Research Award in 2013, and the USF Graduate Council Outstanding Dissertation Award in 2014. At the University of Mississippi, he received the School of Engineering's Junior Faculty Research Award in 2017 and the Outstanding Teaching Award in 2018, as well as the UM Outstanding Advisor Award in 2017. He has received Best Paper Awards at IEEE ISVLSI, IEEE ISEC, and Cadence CDNLive. He is also the recipient of the 2018 National Academic Advising Network's (NACADA) Global Outstanding Advising Award for Faculty.

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STEM employment opportunities in the U.S. are projected to increase by 3 million by 2026, but there is a projected deficit of 1.5 million qualified STEM graduates. Educational initiatives to address this challenge over the last 20 years have generated minimal improvements in math, science, and reading literacy. The STEM Pipeline is disjointed and has several “leaks” where potential STEM candidates are lost. By 8th grade, half of students lose interest in STEM careers, primarily due to struggles with mathematics. Only 69.7% of high school graduates attend college, and more than half of college students who declare in a STEM field will change majors or drop out of school entirely. Only 11% of high school graduates become qualified STEM professionals, meaning the projected STEM deficit would not be met even if 100% of U.S. students who declared a STEM major completed their programs. There are significant barriers to broadening participation among women and underrepresented groups in STEM areas. Between the ages of 11-15, STEM participation among girls begins to significantly decrease, primarily due to cultural pressures, gender stereotypes, and lack of professional role models in those fields. And while underrepresented groups make up 38.8% of the K-12 population, they only make up 9.1% of the STEM workforce. High schools that serve primarily underrepresented student populations often lack the resources to adequately prepare and guide students for STEM careers. Twenty-five percent do not offer Algebra II, 40% do not offer chemistry or physics, and only 33% offer Calculus, and only 6% offer computer science. In areas with high poverty, limited access to resources – such as high-speed internet – means that guidance counselors often have out-of-date or limited materials to help high school students apply for college. Women and minorities that make it through the pipeline often leave the field due to feel marginalized or undervalued, or that the work does not apply to or interest them. Further motivating a change in STEM outcomes is that a disproportionate segment of Department of Defense (DoD) scientists and engineers eligible to retire during the next few years. A significant percentage of STEM PhD’s awarded by U.S. universities – and almost all the growth since 2004 – are from foreign students. Meanwhile, 88% of U.S. military veterans who return to college after deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan have dropped out of college in their first year back at university. Only 25% of universities have a detailed understanding of the causes of stop-out or dropout among their active duty military and student veteran populations. Therefore, growth of the U.S. STEM workforce is increasingly essential to the nation’s ability to prevail during future conflicts, particularly while minimizing casualties, since fulfilling the DOD’s humanitarian and other missions depends heavily on advances in the nation’s technology base.

Meeting the needs of the 2026 STEM workforce requires a systemic transformation from the currently used “STEM Pipeline” to a new STEM Culture of Excellence through mutually beneficial partnerships across academia, industry, and government. Herein, we present the results of a preliminary study of our proposed holistic approach to STEM outreach, education, and research facilitates. The "STEM Culture of Excellence" is based on providing opportunities for high school, undergraduate, and graduate students to interact in a robust research environment with industry and federal professionals through education and training. Extending upon the previously presented "Heads in the Game" program, the "Landsharks to Astronauts" program included 48 high school, undergraduate, and graduate research scholars - including 19 women and 11 African-Americans, participated in research projects with C Spire and University of Mississippi Medical Center, NASA’s Human Research Program, Protxx Inc., and Cadence Design Systems. These projects focused on sensors and devices for effective medical systems, utilization of novel digital health infrastructures, and development of algorithms data mining for medical issues. Undergraduate students simultaneously learned how to develop research projects and mentored the high school scholars, which allowed them to simultaneously be researchers, mentors, and emerging experts in computer engineering areas. We present pre- and post- assessment data from the high school scholar's computer science, biomedical, and nutritional courses. We also present longitudinal data from previous year's participants successes in applying for colleges, and how the distribution of advisement materials to high schools from low-income school districts impacted the student's college readiness. We have provided college advisement packets to nine school districts in the Mississippi Delta region. We will also demonstrate the potential for success for this approach to STEM outreach for generating intellectual property, conference and journal publications, training students to pursue national scholarships, and industrial and federal grants.

Morrison, M. (2019, June), Landsharks to Astronauts: Towards a New STEM Culture of Excellence Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33044

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