The program was recognized by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine.
Texas Tech University's STEM Center for Outreach, Research & Education (STEM CORE) was named a recipient of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine's 2020 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award for its Texas Tech/Lubbock Independent School District (LISD) Middle School STEM Challenge. The award is presented to people and programs that encourage and inspire a new generation of young people to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Jessica Spott, the senior program administrator of STEM CORE who has coordinated the program since its inception, described the program's unique qualities.
"The STEM Challenge has given Texas Tech an opportunity to engage with students who might be only marginally interested in STEM," Spott said. "Working with middle-school students allows us to pique students' interest and solidify the concepts they are learning in the classroom in a fun, low-pressure environment. The beauty of this program is it allows Texas Tech education and STEM students the same opportunity: to explore what they are learning beyond the classroom through serving as mentors to each team."
The Middle School STEM Challenge partners middle-school students and teachers with students from Texas Tech for a weeklong competition to design and pilot a vehicle. The program was created seven years ago as a partnership between Texas Tech's STEM CORE and LISD. It began with building cardboard-and-duct-tape boats and has evolved into a regionally and nationally televised event that includes power tools.
LISD is composed of 59% Hispanic, 14% African American and 72% economically disadvantaged students. More than half of the middle-school students who compete in the challenge are ethnically or racially underrepresented.
"Lubbock ISD's partnership with Texas Tech's STEM CORE has allowed Lubbock students who otherwise may not have been exposed to enriching STEM experiences the opportunity to develop and explore an interest in STEM careers," said Mike Sizemore, K-12 science coordinator at LISD. "Exposing our middle-school students to engineering challenges and older mentors pursuing their STEM education at Texas Tech encourages them to pursue STEM education pathways as they enter high school and college."
Carol A. Sumner, vice president of Texas Tech's Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and chief diversity officer, said STEM CORE is yet another example of how Texas Tech values its commitment to the local community.
"Texas Tech University has, since its beginning, been positioned to advance scholarship and research in meaningful ways – starting locally and extending globally," Sumner said. "Our children stand to benefit through lifelong experiences through engagement with their teachers and our Texas Tech faculty and students. The scale of the impact can be extended to their families, their friends and throughout our Lubbock community. The STEM CORE program is an example of what I like to reference as our responsibility and commitment to our local community and, in particular, our youth.
"The STEM CORE program provides a critical opportunity to explore their curiosities in ways that allows the children, and those who support them, to be seen as scholars in the making. We remain humbled by our responsibility and committed to supporting this work. Congratulations to all involved in creating a space for the next generations of youth to know that questions and interest about STEM are welcome and they can continue such exploration as members of the Texas Tech community."