The National Science Foundation recently awarded $100,000 to a UMKC research conference.
The conference, “Integrating STEM Education Research Collaboration for Regional Prosperity,” was created with a focus on developing a stronger STEM workforce in the greater Kansas City area.
“The Kansas City region does not have enough students graduating in science, technology, engineering and math to support our STEM businesses and industry,” said Alexis Petri, UMKC’s director of faculty support and the project’s leader, when discussing the need for the conference.
The three-day conference this upcoming spring will bring together faculty from multiple institutions, nonprofit members, entrepreneurs and civic leaders to present research on the growing challenges facing the STEM community and identify possible solutions.
One of the conference’s primary goals is to diversify the STEM student population, one of the larger problems within the workforce.
“An additional challenge is that we also do not have a very diverse student population among STEM majors who will be living and working in Kansas City over their careers,” said Petri.
This sentiment is echoed by members of the student body as well.
“In my one class I have on campus this semester, out of like 30 students, there are maybe three or four women and a handful of non-white students. It’s definitely a big problem,” said Jules Garver, a UMKC senior, when talking about diversity within STEM classes.
Additionally, the conference will focus on both student success and increasing degree attainment, two challenging elements facing the field. With such rigorous course loads, students changing majors is a relatively common occurrence.
“I don’t think people are hesitant to go into the field, but I think people are quick to drop it,” said Garver. “I know a handful of people who went into college for STEM and are now the furthest you can be from a STEM major.”
Garver noted UMKC’s specific difficulties in helping students adjust to the course load.
“One of the problems with UMKC is that it’s largely a commuter campus. In my experience, it’s easier to engage with learning and interact with resources when you live on campus and are connected to the community,” said Garver.
In addition to the previously mentioned objectives, the new grant will be used to support three other specific goals:
- Engage best practices on the frontiers of collective impact, institutional transformation and data-informed collaboration.
- Apply new knowledge and innovations to projects addressing both institutional and societal needs.
- Provide a venue for research dissemination and collaborative problem-solving.
Petri and her team, which includes Dr. Tiffani Riggers-Phiel of UMKC’s School of Education, hope to host the conference in person but are preparing for the possibility of the event being virtual due to coronavirus.