Participating in a new NIH-funded project on enhancing STEM education in rural Appalachia

Joshua Rosenberg


I’m excited to be participating as a co-investigator1 for a new NIH-funded project, Imagining Possibilities in post-secondary education and STEMM in rural Appalachia.

The co-principal investigators for the five-year project are Melinda Gibbons and Erin Harden, and this project extends an earlier NIH-funded project they led.

I’ll be contributing to the design of lessons that align with the Next Generation Science Standards (and the Tennessee Academic Standards for Science) and to planning summer research/investigation/science practice-focused (okay, we still have a lot of time to plan!) experiences for students.

Part of the story of this project is that the proposal for it was submitted around 14 months ago, in June, 2020. There were delays before and due to COVID-19 that meant we haved been waiting (and trying to plan accordingly) awhile!

A summary of the project is here:

Project Summary Rural Appalachia is a medically underserved area whose residents experience significant healthcare disparities. Because of the insular nature of rural Appalachian communities, change from within is particularly important. Thus, attracting residents from these areas to the biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research workforce may be essential for reducing the critical health disparities in the region. However, we cannot assume that increasing science and math-related interest and skills will be sufficient to attract students from this region to these careers. Nationwide, high school graduates from low-income, low-minority, rural schools (which describes much of Appalachia) have the lowest college enrollment rate (44%; National Student Clearinghouse [NCS], 2015), suggesting barriers and supports related to higher education in general must be addressed in addition to barriers and supports related to science, technology, engineering, math, and medical science (STEMM) related careers. Our long-range goal in this effort is to develop efficacious interventions that reduce these contextual barriers and increase supports for and interest in both post-secondary education in general and STEMM in particular among Appalachian youth. Our objective is to determine the extent to which such a multifaceted intervention strategy leads to increased intentions to pursue an undergraduate STEMM degree. Our hypothesis is that students who experience such interventions will show increases in these important intrapersonal social-cognitive factors and in their intentions to pursue a postsecondary degree compared to students not exposed to such interventions. Our specific aims are to 1) Increase science identity, as well as self- efficacy, outcome expectation beliefs, and interests related to college-going and STEMM; 2) Teach skills to help students navigate barriers and increase supports for pursuing post-secondary education and STEMM careers; and 3) Determine the additive effects of multiple program experiences on college-going and STEMM beliefs. We will use a closely-matched comparison group to compare students who receive the interventions with those who do not. Achieving these aims will provide concrete tools for schools across rural Appalachia, and perhaps other rural regions, to use to increase the number of their students equipped with the skillsets required to join the high-growth biomedical and clinical research industry workforce.

A bit more about it is here:

  1. NIH has atypical roles for those involved in grants