Photo credit: Lisa Addis, Bowling Green State University
Boosting participation of girls and minority students in STEM classes and events is among the goals of many STEM educators. It was one of the aims of organizers of the annual Ohio Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, held earlier this year at Bowling Green State University (BGSU). To find out the results of their efforts, we contacted Susan Marie Stearns, assistant director of programming and development at the Northwest Ohio Center for Excellence in STEM Education at BGSU, which organized this year’s special recruitment push:
Q: Tell us, in general, about the Ohio Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (OJSHS).
A: OJSHS is designed to challenge and engage students (grades 9-12) in the STEM fields through original research experiments. Individual students compete for scholarships and recognition by presenting the results of their original research in paper or poster presentations before a panel of judges and an audience of their peers.
Opportunities for hands-on workshops, panel discussions, career exploration, research lab visits and networking are a great part of the experience for the students.
The Northwest Ohio Center for Excellence in STEM Education at BGSU has been the site host of the Ohio regional symposia for the past 10 years, and we model the symposium to be very similar to National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.
Q: Is participation by underserved students a goal of the event? How is this accomplished?
A: The competition is open to all students in the state of Ohio. It has been a longtime goal of Dr. Emilio Duran, the regional director, to include additional students from underserved populations.
This year we were afforded the opportunity to include more students through a grant project with the Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP), whose goal is to further the reach of students exposed to scientific research. This opportunity allowed the students to conduct real scientific research (using the latest technology), analyze data and present their work, gaining not only confidence and presentation skills, but also research skills and immersion in STEM study.
Q: Tell us about your recruitment of Toledo Public Schools students to participate in the symposium. How did you do it, and how many students from the school district participated?
A: We worked with officials from Toledo Public Schools to recruit interested teachers and students, and five teachers and 44 students from the Natural Science and Technology Center, Rogers High School and Toledo Technology Academy participated.
The AEOP grant afforded the students funding for research supplies, elevating their capacity to conduct research and create, with guidance from their teachers, research projects suitable for submission to OJSHS.
Under the guidance of two BGSU faculty members — Dr. Duran, associate professor, and Dr. Jodi Haney, professor emeritus — the teachers participated in workshops to learn the mechanics of what it takes to guide their students to create a research project of symposium caliber.
Q: Can you share some of the research presented by the Toledo students? Did any of them go on to the next level of competition?
A: The students delved into research projects that included exploring water quality in Lake Erie, researching drone usage in agriculture and examining the rate of quail growth, among others. As this was the first year of the program, they participated in a noncompetitive poster showcase and received feedback and critique from a panel of judges.
This project also laid groundwork to participate in more research symposiums. Five students presented at the GLOBE Midwest Regional Student Research Symposium at Purdue University and one in the GLOBE International Virtual Science Symposium.
Q: Did you receive feedback from this group? What was their reaction to being a part of the symposium?
A: The results were extremely encouraging and impactful, demonstrating that the goals of the program were met. We received many positive comments from both the students and the teachers. One student said, “This project is the one thing I’ve worked on the hardest my entire life and gave my senior year of high school meaning. It has changed my life.”
Q: For next year’s event, do you plan to reach out more extensively to other urban districts or underserved student populations to increase their participation? How will you do this?
A: Yes, we are reaching out further within our region to recruit more students to participate. We are working with Toledo Public Schools and other district officials now to determine the best way to do this.
Q: What lessons can you share with other educators trying to bolster numbers of girls and minorities at their STEM events?
A: Demonstrating that science can be fun and engaging is a great way to attract more students to events. Hands-on activities can fuel the interest in inquiry-based learning, bringing science to life.