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Work-focused Experiential Learning to Increase STEM Student Retention and Graduation at Two-year Hispanic-serving Institutions

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Cynthia Kay Pickering Arizona State University Orcid 16x16

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Cynthia Pickering is a retired electrical engineer with 35 years industry experience and technical leadership in software development, artificial intelligence, information technology architecture/engineering, and collaboration systems research.

In September 2015, she joined Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) to lead the Girls in STEM initiative and translate her passion for STEM into opportunities that will attract, inspire and retain more girls in STEM to make it the new norm. She has also architected SFAz's enhanced Community College STEM Pathways Guide that has received the national STEMx seal of approval for STEM tools. She integrated the STEM Pathways Guide with the KickStarter processes for improving competitive proposal writing of Community College Hispanic Serving Institutions.

Throughout her career, Ms. Pickering has written robotics software, diagnostic expert systems for space station, manufacturing equipment models, and architected complex IT systems for global collaboration that included engagement analytics. She holds a US Patent # 7904323, Multi-Team Immersive Integrated Collaboration Workspace awarded 3/8/2011. She also has twenty-five peer-reviewed publications.

She has recently begun the Human Social Dimensions PhD program in Arizona State University's School for the Future of Innovation and Technology in Society (Fall 2020).

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Caroline Vaningen-Dunn Arizona State University

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Caroline VanIngen-Dunn is Director of the Science Foundation Arizona Center for STEM at Arizona State University, providing services for Maximizing the Educational and Economic Impact of STEM. VanIngen-Dunn is the inspiration behind the programs and resources designed to assist community colleges, particularly rural and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), through a rigorous process leading to improvements in their capacity building, infrastructure, and proposal development efforts that support students in their STEM education and career pathways pursuits.

VanIngen-Dunn as built her career on years of experience as engineer and project manager in human crashworthiness and safety design, development and testing, working for contractors in commuter rail, aerospace and defense industries.

VanIngen-Dunn has an MS degree in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University and a BSE degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Iowa. She serves on the University of Iowa's College of Engineering Advisory Board, and the YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix Board of Directors.

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Maria A. Reyes Phoenix College

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With over 25 years of higher education experience, Maria Reyes has devoted her time to strengthening the efforts of recruiting and retaining underrepresented populations in the STEM disciplines. This first began at Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering where she garnered many grants supporting minority engineering students. For almost 20 years and counting, she continues serving Maricopa Community Colleges, beginning at Estrella Mountain Community College, Chandler-Gilbert Community College, and currently as the Dean of Industry and Public Service for Phoenix College in the central core of the metro area.

In April 2020, Ms. Reyes was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant from the Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) for $2.4 million. Ms. Reyes is the Principal Investigator (PI) for the five-year project entitled: Work-focused Experiential Learning to Increase STEM Student Retention and Graduation at Two-year Hispanic-serving Institutions. She has also developed and worked with grants from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the US Department of Education, and the US Department of Labor with an estimated grant impact total of $13.5 million.

She has designed leadership and outreach programs for women of color in STEM and has mentored countless women throughout her career at one point serving as the Chairwoman for Hispanic Women’s Conference in 2009 and 2010. Her most proud career distinction is the establishment of the Hermanas: Diseña Tu Futuro Conferences for middle and high school students, which aims to increase the number of Latinas in engineering. For over 15 years, “Hermanas” has served more than 6000 young women across the county. In 2019, she was inducted into the President’s Circle of Distinction by the Association for Career and Technical Education of Arizona and honored by the Greater Phoenix Chamber ATHENA Awards as a Nominee for the 32nd Annual ATHENA Awards.

Ms. Reyes is a civil engineer, earning a BSE and MSE in Civil Engineering from ASU and served as a consulting engineer on several freeway projects statewide. She was awarded a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government as a result of her passion for public policy and technical background. Ms. Reyes is the author and contributing writer of more than 20 academic publications with an emphasis on the social and cultural pedagogies of minorities in STEM environments.

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With support from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Undergraduate Education, this five-year project led by a two-year HSI seeks to provide underrepresented students with mentored work experiences in computer information systems. Students will have access to on-campus work experiences and internships in businesses and industries. It is anticipated that some examples of potential student projects include mobile application development, cybersecurity, and computer support. It is expected that these experiences will increase undergraduate student interest, persistence, and success in computer information systems, as well as in STEM more broadly. To ensure that they are well-prepared for and gain the most from their work experiences, students will receive training on employability skills such as communication, teamwork, and project management. In addition, during their work experiences, students will be mentored by faculty, industry professionals, and peers. To strengthen the capacity of faculty to serve all students, including Hispanic students, the project will provide faculty with professional development focused on equity mindset. This framework to provide mentored work experiences will be developed and piloted at Phoenix College, in the computer information technology department and eventually expanded to other STEM fields at the institution. Following this, the project also intends to expand this framework four other two-year HSIs in the region. Through this work, the project aims to develop a replicable model for how two-year institutions can develop work experiences that foster increased student graduation and entry into STEM career pathways.

This project, which is currently in its first year, seeks to examine how a curriculum that integrates cross-sector partnerships to provide work experiences can enhance STEM learning and retention. Using mixed methods and grounded theory, the project will expand knowledge about: (1) the impact of cross-sector partnerships that support work-focused experiential teaching and learning; (2) systematic ways to maintain and better use cross-sector partnerships; and (3) the degree to which a model of work-focused learning experiences can be adopted at other two-year HSIs and by other STEM fields. Baseline data about Hispanic serving identity at the pilot institution has been collected and assessed at the institutional, departmental, and for different educator roles including faculty, support staff, and administrative leaders to produce inputs towards developing a detailed plan of action. Early results from baseline data, visualizations, and planning responses will be reported in the submission. Expected long term results of the project include: development of sustainable mechanisms to foster cross-sector partnerships; increased student retention and workforce readiness; and measurable successes for STEM students, particularly Hispanic students, at two-year HSIs.

Pickering, C. K., & Vaningen-Dunn, C., & Reyes, M. A. (2021, July), Work-focused Experiential Learning to Increase STEM Student Retention and Graduation at Two-year Hispanic-serving Institutions Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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