NSF commits $3M to diversifying STEM, continuing U-M led program

Collaboration with Michigan universities and community colleges taps local expertise and resources

November 16, 2021
Contact: Jim Lynch lynchja@umich.edu,
Kate McAlpine kmca@umich.edu

As higher education continues to struggle with bringing people from Black, Latin American and Indigenous communities into science and technological careers, the federal government is re-upping its support for a collaborative effort in Michigan that has helped more than 7,500 students earn degrees.

The National Science Foundation has committed $3 million to fund the Michigan Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (MI-LSAMP) for another five years. Run through the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering, the alliance is one of more than 50 such programs across the country focused on increasing the number of students from historically excluded communities who earn degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“There is so much talent out there, and we’re not availing ourselves of that full talent pool,” said Herbert Winful, U-M Diversity and Social Transformation Professor and current lead co-principal investigator. “We need to pull out all the stops to get more people of color into the STEM disciplines.”

U-M serves as the lead for this multi-institutional endeavor, which includes Michigan State University, Mott Community College, Washtenaw Community College, Wayne State University and Western Michigan University. MI-LSAMP harnesses the expertise and connections of academic institutions anchored in communities with high percentages of historically excluded minorities to better identify and support candidates.

Over its 15-year history in Michigan, the program has provided minority students a variety of programs that include advising and mentoring, summer transition programs, peer support and research opportunities. Additionally, workshops tackle topics such as resilience, leadership, social media branding and career building.

For the next five years, MI-LSAMP officials will focus on four main areas:

  • Continuing and expanding summer bridge programs that have been shown to bolster first-year academic performance and retention.
  • Supporting and growing the alliance’s NxtGEN STEM Scholars Program, which provides guidance from multiple institutions at every step along the student’s academic path.
  • Expanding summer research opportunities in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program—an offering that has proven to increase the likelihood students will pursue postgraduate education.
  • Integrating MI-LSAMP within the broader array of student support services and resources offered by partner institutions to create new synergies/partnerships and leverage economies of scale to assist historically excluded students.

“Whenever a complex system produces relatively stable inequities over a long time horizon, the design of the system must be addressed to improve results,” said Matthew Nelson, MI-LSAMP interim executive director. “The university’s commitment to leverage MI-LSAMP in rethinking how underrepresented minority students in STEM are supported is a huge step in the right direction.”

In STEM, the problems we attempt to solve and the ways we go about solving them are driven by those in the field. If those problem-solvers are a fairly homogenous group lacking diversity, it narrows creativity and innovation, Nelson said.

“We are pleased that the Michigan LSAMP will continue to build on their successful work of preparing a diverse cadre of STEM graduates,” said Martha James, the NSF’s LSAMP lead program officer.

According to the NSF’s Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering, a lack of different voices and viewpoints has a trickle-down effect that reaches multiple levels.

“Diverse perspectives are necessary for solving critical scientific and social challenges such as disease, hunger, poverty, safety and security,” the committee has stated. “STEM leaders from underrepresented groups … persons with disabilities and women provide the different cultural perspectives necessary to solve the broad spectrum of human problems.”