A project to increase participation by women and minorities from rural areas in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as well as the areas of food, agriculture, natural resources, and human (FANH) sciences has been funded by the USDA. The $92,000 grant award will help foster mentoring relationships between high-school students, college students, and researchers at the University of Minnesota Crookston.

    The objectives of the “La Mesa from the Town to the Table: Recruitment of Underrepresented Students” grant will build relationships and increase understanding in STEM and FANH sciences. Students will also learn about opportunities provided through higher education and discuss what options are available for accessing higher education.

    The funding also will support assistance for current high school students in the development of soft skills to prepare them for careers; assist rising high school seniors with the college application process; and establish best practices including cultural affirmation through bilingual tours and working directly with professionals of color and women.

    “We want to demonstrate the kind of access students have to college in this region,” says John Hoffman, vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs. “Our campus wants to make a difference in the lives of students, especially those exemplary students that too many other campuses miss, and this grant will help us make that difference. We are incredibly proud of the work on this grant application and look forward to seeing it help us change lives.”

    Crookston and Fisher high schools collaborated with UMN Crookston on identifying activities for the programs through a working session with high school teachers and administrative support. Funding allows twenty students, primarily minoritized populations, including women, students of color, first generation college students (neither parent has completed a baccalaureate) and individuals from underrepresented socioeconomic populations".  

    Authoring the grant were Assistant Professor Tony Schroeder in the Math, Science, and Technology Department; Lisa Samuelson, interim associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs, Ken Mendez, executive operations/student services specialist in the campus Post Office; Alma Torres Pierce, assistant director for multicultural education and student success in the office of Student Success. Assistance on the grant also was provided by Janessa DeBoer and Jessica Hanson from the Office of Enrollment and Tamara Luna from the Math, Science, and Technology Department.

    Working on this grant has had special meaning for Ken Mendez, a UMN Crookston graduate and current employee who can relate to the challenges facing students in the area.

    “I personally understand the value of this grant funding. As an older-than-average student when I came back to school, I know I did not appreciate or grasp the importance of education at a higher level in high school,” Mendez says. “To provide this exposure to students will open opportunities I didn’t recognize as a high school student as well as potential career paths these students might never have considered without it.”

    The proposal is three tiered and designed to break down the erroneous idea that “college isn’t for me.” The program is designed to have twenty students in each of the grades 9 through 11, participate in STEM activities.  Each year, the amount of time learning and participating in STEM activities will increase as the students get older. The programming was designed for them and developed by Anthony Kern, Ph.D., unit head for Math, Science, and Technology and Agriculture and Natural Resources.

    “Our curriculum will take students beyond textbooks to experiences that demonstrate and apply learning,” says Kern. “Learning by doing is powerful and we are preparing to involve students in activities to help them identify areas of interest and a future that includes education beyond high school. It will be a curriculum of discovery leading to future possibilities.”