Think Like a Scientist: An Innovative Approach to Early STEM Education

Presenter: Nuria Romero

Research Category: Interdisciplinary Topics, Centers and Institutes
College: College of Science
Major(s): Cell and Molecular Biology
Student Type: Undergraduate
Graduation Date: 2021
Additional Authors: Alexandra Silverman, Hannah Wisner
Award Winner Category: Illuminating Complex Problems

As the fields of science and technology advance and career opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) continue to expand, having an influx of creative and diverse scientists is more important than ever. Despite innovative efforts to encourage students to pursue a career in STEM, only 13% of high school students finish their post-secondary education in STEM. Moreover, professionals from underrepresented backgrounds account for less than 20% of STEM Bachelor’s degrees awarded in the US. Systemic barriers such as inequity in education, prohibitive costs, and lack of access to mentorship and funding opportunities consistently preclude students from aiming to become a scientist. Think Like a Scientist (TLAS) is an initiative that brings STEM workshops with a story-centered curriculum to children and youth from underrepresented backgrounds in the field. The workshops are designed to provide students with fun and appealing experiential learning. A core idea of this program is to challenge students to question their current assumptions about scientists, as well as highlighting the diversity in the STEM professions. Throughout the program, college students mentor younger students, fostering an environment where participants are encouraged to ask questions, propose ideas, and even make mistakes. The story-centered curriculum followed by TLAS highlights diverse scientists and has been shown to promote more engagement. It focuses on hands-on, interactive science experiments that are related to a real-life problem, which strengthens the translational aspect of the knowledge and skills that students acquire through their participation.