4989 Views (as of 05/2023)
  1. Alison Slinskey Legg
  2. Director of Outreach
  4. University of Pittsburgh, Remake Learning
  1. Mackenzie Ball
  2. http://linkedin.com/in/mackenzie-ball-a3812410b
  3. Director of Outreach and Alumni Engagement
  5. University of Pittsburgh
  1. Becky Gonda
  2. Assistant Director of Outreach
  4. University of Pittsburgh

Diversifying Access to Urban Universities for Students in STEM Fields

NSF Awards: 1744446

2019 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades 9-12, Undergraduate

Lack of racial and ethnic diversity in STEM is a national problem.  For decades, precollege STEM programs have sought to address this problem by increasing access to critical STEM opportunities that foster engagement and support the development of high-level knowledge and skills in STEM for minoritized students.  While precollege programs have been successful in attracting and supporting ethnically and racially minoritized students, this has not led to increased diversity in undergraduate STEM programs.  Presently, precollege programs are not organized by a unifying body and do not generate comprehensive and standardized data on student competency gains that can inform admission decisions to provide more holistic views of students’ STEM experiences and aptitude and diversify student populations at urban research universities. This project designs a collective impact model to create pathways between pre-college STEM programs and college STEM admissions.


To make precollege STEM experiences relevant and meaningful to college admissions decisions, we have four interconnected aims.

Aim 1 draws on national literature and employs a local needs assessment to create stronger STEM pathways for urban communities.

Aim 2 develops a set of metrics termed the “STEM Success Matrix” that define competencies important for success in STEM fields. 

Aim 3 develops a set of tools that credential precollege programs based on their ability to grow students in the competencies identified in the STEM Success Matrix.

Aim 4 translates the products of the first 3 Aims into actionable change in admissions practices.


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Discussion from the 2019 STEM for All Video Showcase (13 posts)
  • Icon for: Becky Gonda

    Becky Gonda

    Assistant Director of Outreach
    May 13, 2019 | 10:14 a.m.

    Thank you for visiting our video, which highlights the work of our 2-year INCLUDES design and development launch pilot. During the pilot, we assessed four STEM precollege programs at the University of Pittsburgh that serve our urban community to develop an alternate pathway to undergraduate admissions at Pitt. Our video presents the findings of our pilot as well as where we see this project going in the future. We are especially interested in feedback from other precollege programs as well as undergraduate institutions regarding any challenges groups have faced in assessing student participation in precollege programs for admissions decisions.

  • Icon for: Alex Rudolph

    Alex Rudolph

    May 13, 2019 | 08:58 p.m.

    This is an awesome program! The "STEM success matrix you developed looks really useful and empowering to educators who want to diversify their student population while maintaining (or raising) the quality of the students at their institution. I especially like how you worked with your admissions office to translate your findings into a pathway for URM students to matriculate to U Pittsburgh. I do have a couple of questions:

    1) How exactly did you get your admissions office to buy into the "STEM success matrix"? Were they willing partners or did you have to convince to accept your work? I am sure others will want to know how to get their own admissions offices to buy into a similar effort.

    2) Have you published your "STEM success matrix"? If you haven't, you should! The fact that you did so much research into the literature and worked to validate your work is impressive and needs to be disseminated.

    3) How has your increased URM admissions translated to student success? Is the university supporting the students once they arrive on campus? Are you tracking those students to see if they succeed once they are at U Pittsburgh?

    4) Could the lessons you learned about evaluating students as applicants be applied once they are at your university?

    Again, congratulations on a wonderful program. I hope you are able to spread the word!

  • Icon for: Alison Slinskey Legg

    Alison Slinskey Legg

    Lead Presenter
    Director of Outreach
    May 14, 2019 | 08:13 a.m.

    Hi Alex! Thank you for your questions and feedback on our project. In response to your questions:

    1. There is mounting body of research that calls for transformation in college admissions to reduce bias and account for diversity.  Our admissions office thinks very deeply about this and has grappled with identifying effective metrics on which to center an alternative admissions review.  Precollege Stem Programs (PCPs) offer an attractive solution because because many engage a diverse population in rigorous, out-of-school education that prepares students for STEM fields. However, the current college admissions system does not account for this value, due in part to the variability in quality of PCPs and the inability of admissions to properly assess the value of experiences in individual PCPs. No unifying body exists to create collaborative space for PCPs to improve in their capacity to support STEM persistence for URM students, nor is there any corresponding infrastructure to comparatively study the effects of PCPs on admissions, persistence, attainment, and transition to the workforce.  We hope to be able to continue this work by creating an Alliance of PCPs, and University Admissions officers.

    2. We plan to publish the STEM success matrix as well as a playbook for how urban universities can interface effectively with their communities through PCPs.In addition, we identified and articulated a set of quality standards for PCPs that serves as evidence-based benchmarks for broadening participation. These quality standards document a program’s ability to engage and prepare URM students for success in a STEM field. Developed from the playbook of community engagement and the STEM Success Matrix, the quality standards include aspects of recruitment, student services, caregiver commu­ni­ca­tion and engagement, program design and implementation characteristics, culturally sustaining pedagogies, and established pathways to other STEM PCPs and to undergraduate admissions. 

    3. As a direct result of the work from our INCLUDES DDLP, The University of Pittsburgh created The Broaden­ing Equity in STEM Center (BE STEM). This Center is significant because it provides an organizational hub for our work and support for our vision, and in addition, BE STEM elevates the conversation around equity in STEM education on the Pitt campus.  Efforts to track and support matriculated students is an active area of focus.

    4. Creating equitable access extends beyond admissions.  We are thankful for the support from our University and will work through BE STEM to create a collective impact space that leverages expertise from academic and professional sectors to create equitable opportunities for students.

    Thank you again Alex for taking the time to watch our video and engage with us!

    Discussion is closed. Upvoting is no longer available

    Alexander Rudolph
  • Icon for: Patricia Marsteller

    Patricia Marsteller

    Assoc Dean and Professor of Practice
    May 14, 2019 | 11:32 a.m.

    Very interesting approach to accrediting pre-college programs. I agree with Alex that this should be published and shared. So many institutions have had pre-college programs for years.  One of the difficulties in assessing impact has been tracking what happens to student participants.  Where do they go on to college and how successful are they when they enter.   Your program can help.

    Have you thought about joining with NABI? This is a national broader impact group that shares many such strategies.


    I'd also love to know how U Pitt's programs are supported.  As someone who had worked in this arena for many years, one of the chief obstacles encountered by many centers and PCPs is tht when grant funding goes away, the instituion cancels the staff necessary to make these happen.  How did you persuade Pitt to invest?  What are some tips for others?


  • Icon for: Stephen Alkins

    Stephen Alkins

    Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer
    May 14, 2019 | 03:14 p.m.

    Along the lines of success following admissions, there are STEM-specific programs like POSSE that track students and pair them with mentors throughout their first two years of their undergraduate career to support them.  This is one model to address the persistence concern.

  • Icon for: Alaine Allen

    Alaine Allen

    Higher Ed Administrator
    May 15, 2019 | 03:29 p.m.

    Hi Stephen,

    Thank you for your comments.  On the University of Pittsburgh campus we have some “POSSE”-like Programs such as Pitt EXCEL, our undergraduate diversity program in the Swanson School of Engineering, RISE and BRIDGES.  These programs provide some of the mentoring that you suggested. We agree with you that those support networks/community building programs are key.

  • Icon for: Molly Phillips

    Molly Phillips

    iDigBio Education, Outreach and Diversity Coordinator
    May 14, 2019 | 02:30 p.m.

    Your STEM success matrix looks like a really useful tool. Do you think it could also apply to students already in college as well? I would of course like to echo the others in I would love to see this shared somewhere because I would definitely use it as a resource.

  • Icon for: Alaine Allen

    Alaine Allen

    Higher Ed Administrator
    May 15, 2019 | 03:34 p.m.

    Hello Molly,

    Thanks for your comments.  Some of the literature included focuses on looking at success from the perspective of early STEM majors and the faculty that work with them, so yes the matrix could apply to students already in college.  In the case of our project, the goal is to build these items in the experiences of our pre-college students to increase their success in college.

  • Icon for: Stephen Alkins

    Stephen Alkins

    Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer
    May 14, 2019 | 03:37 p.m.

    This assessment of PCPs is great!

    I am curious as to why you examined standardized tests to determine persistence in STEM seeing as how the ACT and SAT are not touted as predictors of STEM persistence.  At best they test a basic knowledge of data interpretation/manipulation, and a very limited understanding of the scientific method.  It seems the metric of preparedness or performance in first-year science courses would be more suitable. 

    As, perhaps, another layer to your "Knowledge & Skills" or "Habits of Mind" sections, what did your analyses determine of study skills.  A major disconnect between secondary school STEM and college STEM (project-based learning curricula excluded) is how students study and acquire knowledge.  College STEM is not (or not supposed to be) regurgitation of textbook jargon.  Perhaps this falls under critical thinking skills, but enforcing proper study habits in STEM is crucial to persistence because it teaches students how to break up, acquire, and retain knowledge. 



  • Icon for: david boone

    david boone

    May 15, 2019 | 01:51 p.m.

    Hi Stephen,

    Wonderful questions. Thank you for contributing to this discussion. I will address only the first question and leave the rest to my colleagues. 

    We specifically examined the predictive power of standardized tests on STEM persistence because board scores are still one of the primary tools used by admissions officers across the country to determine 'college readiness.' To their defense, it is one of the only standardized metrics that is available to them, but we wanted to determine if at our University there is a correlation between SAT/ACT scores and STEM persistence over the past 12 years. Of course, we found that there is a correlation, however there is a stronger correlation between board scores and race/ethnicity demonstrating a racial component to standardized tests (as has been shown previously) and the weakness of the global applicability of their usage for college admissions at least in STEM. This is why we argue for the development of a more holistic application/review process and we hope to identify measurable metrics (such as participation in quality precollege programs) that can augment or supplant board scores.   

  • Mackenzie Ball

    Higher Ed Administrator
    May 15, 2019 | 02:54 p.m.

    Thank you for visiting and viewing our video!  We appreciate your time and feedback!! This video highlights our NSF INCLUDES 2 year DDLP.  Our video presents the findings of our pilot as well as where we see this project going in the future.

  • Icon for: Sharon Cooper

    Sharon Cooper

    Informal Educator
    May 17, 2019 | 03:30 p.m.

    I"m in Pittsburgh and it's great to hear that this is happening right here. Sounds like great work - keep it up!

  • Icon for: Alison Slinskey Legg

    Alison Slinskey Legg

    Lead Presenter
    Director of Outreach
    May 20, 2019 | 12:44 p.m.

    Thank you Sharon!  Drop us a line if you’d like to connect.

  • Further posting is closed as the event has ended.