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S. Austin, W. Harris, L. Johnson

Medgar Evers College, City University of New York (UNITED STATES)
This paper describes a set of programs supported by grants from NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) which are intended to stimulate the engagement of under-represented minority students in science, math and technology disciplines. Over a 4-year period, outcomes based on required longitudinal tracking for participating students indicate retention rates of over 90%. More than 80% pursue graduate studies in science and technology. Significant impacts for indirect participants engaged principally through coursework are described as well. These results are promising given that most of the participants are first-time college students in their families and many began their undergraduate studies with weak educational backgrounds particularly in science and math.

The projects include a high-altitude balloon program, MECSAT, with students developing small-scale payloads for science investigations, and an expansion of that program which monitors ozone in the troposphere and stratosphere and includes data validation for instruments on the Aura satellite. The balloon experimentation and research is interdisciplinary with student majors in Computer Science, Environmental Science, Math, Physics and Biology at Medgar Evers College. A very recent microsatellite program, CUNYSAT, consists of Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Physics majors from colleges in the City University of New York.

Projects of this type are rarely found in minority-serving institutions and rarely engage under-represented minority students elsewhere. This paper, however, describes that the transformative value of the projects for both minorities and female students with respect to the core components embracing multi-disciplinary problem-solving, peer-teaching and learning, and systems thinking. Although systems-thinking is not a new concept, its integration in the undergraduate curriculum has largely been confined to Earth System Science and its role in the retention of minority students in undergraduate science disciplines has not been fully explored.