Dominique Briggs coordinates the BE STEM and STEM PUSH efforts to build a broad alliance of pre-college STEM programs across the United States and to study how those programs increase college enrollment for Black, Latine, and Indigenous students. Remake Learning sat down with Dominique to talk about the work of the national BE STEM network and the importance of equity in STEM learning and STEM careers.
This conversations has been condensed for length and clarity.
Melissa Rayworth: Tell us how BE STEM came about. When did it begin and what’s it all about?
Dominique Briggs: BE STEM was created in 2019 to support the work of the University of Pittsburgh’s NSF INCLUDES team, which is made up of faculty and staff from five schools across the university. We were awarded $10 million from NSF to do this work of Broadening Equity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. We’re the lead organization national network of pre-college STEM programs and evidence-based pathways for university admissions. Through science and a network improvement community, change ideas are tested to ensure that what we’re doing is proving positive for moving Black, Latine, and Indigenous students into more STEM careers with the help of these pre-college STEM programs, and we were the first alliance to do this work in this way. We’re currently working towards pre-college STEM program accreditation.
MR: Where does STEM PUSH fit into this work?
DB: The STEM PUSH Network is housed within BE STEM, and the network itself supports these pre-college STEM programs in strengthening how they serve Black, Latine and Indigenous students with work through admissions offices, also thinking about a new way that pre-college STEM programs can help carry weight in the admissions process. So it’s research and collaboration with some of our partners, our backbone, our ecosystems, STEM PUSH leverages the power of these pre college STEM programs and the power of ecosystems.
MR: How would you describe the impact that pre-college STEM programs can have for Black, Latine and Indigenous students?
DB: They open the door for new STEM experiences that the students might not have in their schools or in their afterschool programs. Very often, science in high school is so straightforward. You’re in biology, you’re in chemistry, you’re in physics. But these pre-college STEM programs help you look at biology and chemistry and physics in useful ways. One of our pre-college STEM programs through the Pittsburgh Parks uses STEM and in a more environmental way. They’re taking what these kids might be learning and making it something that they can relate to. There’s also college prep, and students have support in their pursuit of STEM careers. They meet people working in these fields and they get to ask questions. You might not normally get that in high school, and this helps students get more of an idea of what STEM has to offer.
MR: How did the pandemic impact the work of BE STEM and STEM PUSH?
DB: There is something about a network improvement community that requires that in-person feeling. It’s important to really get to know everybody – to sit across from somebody, talking about your experience and sharing their experience, and being able to communicate that in person. That’s part of what makes network improvement communities so, so rich and so effective in whatever they’re trying to improve. Because of COVID, we had to make a lot of adjustments. We had to push some things back and massage some things, but we made it work.
MR: In the Pittsburgh region, where do students find pre-college STEM programs and is the range and impact of these programs growing?
DB: We have a lot of pre-college STEM programs that are university-based, and they might do some outreach through local high schools. Others are community-based, at organizations like the Boys and Girls Club or the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. It’s a really nice mix of programs, and there are so many – including some we haven’t even been in contact with yet – because Pittsburgh is a STEM-heavy city, which is really nice. And I do think that there’s more of an awareness from higher-ed admissions offices, because of COVID and the shifting of testing and things like that, about the pre-college STEM programs operating here in Pittsburgh and how helpful they can be. The networking and collaborating we’re able to do through Remake Learning has also been valuable. BE STEM started through our leads meeting and coming together through Remake Learning, and trying to figure out how we can combat this issue of minoritized students who do not have all of the same opportunities, and who are struggling to get into and stay in STEM careers. It was this issue that brought everybody together at Remake and had us thinking about these issues.