State joins equity in sciences project

BY LINI GE | FEBRUARY 19, 2009 7:44 AM

Kristin Mirocha met some other women in a living-learning community before attending her first class freshman year at the UI — and four years later, she’s still good friends with them.

Mirocha’s community was part of the UI’s Women in Science and Engineering program, which provides academic and social support to 85 first- and second-year women majoring in science, technology, engineering, and math annually.

“It also allowed me to meet all sorts of majors, which initiated insightful debates and conversations,” said the 21-year-old senior, who is studying interdepartmental health sciences.

The living-learning community is among more than 100 such initiatives across Iowa that will now be coordinated at the state level through a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Equity Pipeline project. The project, implemented with a National Science Foundation grant, aims at increasing participation of females in secondary and postsecondary science cluster programs of study.

UI Women in Science and Engineering Director Christine Brus was part of the Iowa crew who attended the Equity Pipeline Leadership Institute in Arlington, Va., in April 2008 to assess the feasibility of joining the project.

“We had been discussing ways to get the state as a whole involved. There are all sorts of little initiatives, but nobody even knows where they are,” she said. “We felt they could be better leveraged if we could find a way to create an umbrella at the state level that would help with coordination and information flow.”

In October 2008, Iowa, along with Minnesota, was selected by the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity Education Foundation to join the five states — California, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin — that participated in the first year of the project.

“Each participating state is uniquely strong,” said Courtney Reed Jenkins, the project’s Iowa State facilitator. “Iowa’s strengths are the strong partnerships among the community colleges and their regional high schools, its sophisticated data collection and analysis, and committed leadership across the state to increase the number of girls and women in [science, technology, engineering, and math] classes and careers.”

The Iowa Department of Education, which is in charge of the grant, coordinates the various programs throughout the state.

“What we are doing is to infuse the grant strategies into professional development activities that are already existing in the state,” said Jeanette Thomas, the project state contact for Iowa from the state Education Department.

An implementation plan of the project, put together through the department, is almost complete. The plan, Thomas said, involves initiatives including the training of staff from Hawkeye Community College, Indian Hills Community College, and Iowa Western Community College, the collaboration with Project Lead the Way, and related workshops and conferences across the state.

The gains the state will enjoy through participation of the project include access to all the resources developed by the project up to date, access to national experts, and professional training for practitioners in the state provided by project facilitators, Thomas said.

And how will the UI benefit from the project? Brus said it is hard to track success based on specific numbers from certain universities.

“[We should] look broadly and understand that the benefit is much larger than any institution,” she said. “We will all benefit when working collaboratively.”

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