According to the American College Testing Organization, only 13 percent of those graduating from Omaha’s high schools are graduating with college-prep proficiency in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Sadly, over three-quarters of Omaha’s kids are unprepared for college coursework in Science and Mathematics.
Since the spring of 2013, the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s (UNO) Biology Department, has been working in collaboration with the Omaha Public School system to improve these unpleasant statistics through a program called NE STEM 4U, which is being led by Christine E. Cutucache, Ph.D. and Haddix Community Chair of Science; Biology Department Chair William Tapprich, Ph.D.; and Neal Grandgennett, UNO Haddix Community Chair of STEM Education.
In its infancy, the NE STEM 4U program has already logged over 5,000 hours volunteered and was named No. 1 nationally in the “Time-In” category by Afterschool Alliance.
By using Nebraska Statewide Assessment & Accountability (NeSA) scores, as well as socio-economic data, NE STEM 4U is designed to target those Omaha schools with the greatest need. The program also functions as a much-needed afterschool program, filling a major programming need in Omaha’s impoverished areas; it also directly addresses our low STEM proficiency scores.
“One Hundred percent of the students involved in the program are on free or reduced lunch programs,” Cutucache says.
NE STEM 4U is an informal afterschool environment where OPS students are encouraged in STEM education through the use of hands-on activities. According to Cutucache what makes this program different is that the kids are the ones doing actually conducting the experiment, not the teacher or in this case, the UNO student mentor.
“Seeing the kids get it, being excited about science, excited to see us,” explains undergraduate student and NE STEM 4U mentor Tim Shew.
For eight weeks of the semester, UNO students visit each of the seven schools on the list for 60 minutes twice per week. The average classroom is between 15-20 OPS children and the program is conducted by three to four UNO students. Cutucache says there will be eight schools on the list next year.
Some of the program’s practical application is for now based on a trial and error method. NE STEM 4U is constantly evolving and innovating based on quantitative and qualitative analysis. This is done in seminars Cutucache calls, “STEMinars.”
As with any community service or service learning project, the OPS students aren’t the only ones with something to gain. The UNO STEM 4U mentors also reap significant rewards through their dedication to those Omaha kids suffering from educational disparity.
“It’s nice to be able to take what I’m interested in and apply it. Helping people achieve, to give them the tools to bring them out of poverty, and showing them that STEM is valuable.” Shew said.
For additional information or to find out how you can get involved Cutucache at firstname.lastname@example.org.