The STEAM-Active (Project Number: 2021-1-ES01-KA220-HED-000032107) project is funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.

Innovative professional development and community building activity program improves STEM URM graduate student experiences

Partners' Institution
Kaunas University of Technology
Year of publication
Educational stage
University Level
Journal name
International journal of STEM Education
Thematic Area
STEAM intervention (teaching strategies, evaluation...), Students’ Difficulties
The paper provides a model designed to implement strategies that would ensure an effective students’ participation in doctoral studies or successful transition from masters’ program to doctoral studies in STEM fields. The presented program was dedicated to the students who belong to the underrepresented minorities. It was implemented in five universities, that is, students with different regional and cultural background were able to participate in this program. This ensured the diversity of the created STEM community. The program consists of various activities, such as peer-writing workshops, conferences, summer institutes. Each activity is described in the article with the participants’ reflections about the impact of the activity to their success in STEM studies and results of the questionnaires. The program was presented as successful as it resulted in the increased number of students in doctoral studies and those who proceed their career in faculty positions after getting the degree.
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
The article presents the program which helps underrepresented minority students in STEM disciplines to get a successful career as a faculty member. There are many reasons why students decide to terminate their careers in academic position, many of them are related to personal life and uncertain career perspective.
The program encouraged students to improve motivation and professional skills in order to become competitive candidates for the academic positions. The data for the paper was collected from the questionnaires sent to students after each activity, focus groups interviews and feedback survey. The authors justify their statements about the program with students’ comments from the questionnaires with open-ended questions to get qualitative data and closed-ended questions to get quantitative data.
The program offered a series of interventions in areas of professional development, community building, and participation incentives. The activities for the professional development can be grouped to academic development, leadership and communication development, instruction and assessment, career development. They took various forms, for example, seminars, workshops, informal collaboration, travel awards, summer retreats, peer writing groups/support. Some activities were dedicated to preparing a successful proposal for a fellowship program, others were aimed to sharing scientific knowledge with colleagues from STEM disciplines and effectively communicate with the ones outside the field. Students appreciate the networking and engaging with other scientists. During networking, they share problems and challenges, find similar stories, and therefore can use others’ experience. Career planning activities, inspirational stories and motivations help students to see the perspective of academic career in STEM disciplines. Some of the activities, such as summer retreats, Piazza online chats, kick-off and end-of-year celebrations also helped to create a sense of belonging to students from the underrepresented minorities. Chat facilitating activity helped to develops students’ leadership and communication skills. The financial support as incentives was provided in a form of grants, travel awards, participation bonus. The majority of the participants indicated that after the program they have a better understanding about the possible options to proceed their career in STEM as a faculty member or post-doctoral student.
The program was implemented in five universities, therefore, different regional, cultural, geographic, and demographic contexts. It helped underrepresented minority students to develop the core competences that can be applied in various career paths. The program also encouraged student networking which resulted in building large-scale, distributed, diverse, and interconnected STEM community.
Point of Strength
The presented program encouraged students to develop leadership and communication skills and create an interconnected STEM community among the diverse educational institutions. The program also resulted in increased number of successful doctoral studies and number of transitions from master studies to doctoral studies.
Underrepresented minority, Graduate students, STEM, Professoriate, Professional development, Community building
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