$3M Grant Establishes Program to Help Hispanic Students Prepare, Succeed in STEM

Old Main

Arizona high school students will soon be able to take dual-enrollment University of Arizona-designed pre-calculus courses thanks to a new program from the university's College of Education and Hispanic-Serving Institution Initiatives office that aims to strengthen high schools' college-going resources.

A $3 million Department of Education grant will fund the program, called Outreach FAMILIA, for five years. The program's pre-calculus courses, which the students can take for free while still in high school, will provide students with credits that can transfer to the university, and the foundation to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

The program aims to partner with four schools each year whose student populations are at least 60% Hispanic and have at least 40% eligible for free and reduced lunch. The first year will be spent building partnerships with the local high schools and launching the first subaward competition in the spring. The schools will compete each year for subgrants.

The grant was awarded by the Department of Education's Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program, given to institutions designated as HSIs to help expand and enhance opportunities for Hispanic students. HSIs are institutions with an undergraduate student enrollment that is at least 25% Hispanic. The University of Arizona was designated an HSI in 2018.

"I see this grant-funded project as one of several efforts that brings to life the University of Arizona's commitment as a Hispanic-Serving Institution," said Marla Franco, assistant vice provost for HSI initiatives and faculty affiliate in the UArizona Center for the Study of Higher Education. "Investing in our K-12 community and their families to strengthen the college-going culture is essential for supporting a diverse and thriving student body at this university."

"This award from the Department of Education speaks to the University of Arizona's commitment as a Hispanic-Serving Institution – and allows us to fulfill that commitment to even more Arizona students," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "It is vitally important we create pathways to the university, and I am proud we are finding ways to better prepare our local high school students to pursue their higher education goals and fulfilling careers in STEM fields."

The work behind Outreach FAMILIA – which stands for Forwarding Academic Mechanisms Integral to Learning in the Academy – began well before the designation, said Cindy Trejo, a grant writer for the HSI Initiatives office and the program's principal investigator. The vision for the program grew out of community meetings, which included school district leaders and students.

"From that visioning, we really saw the opportunity to engage with families, in terms of college-going outreach, and embrace our land-grant mission," said Trejo, who worked in K-12 education for 20 years.

The meetings, she added, also highlighted the importance of "being very deliberate in our outreach efforts with high schools that have high-enrolling Latinx students."

The pre-calculus courses are expected to begin in the program's second year and will be taught by graduate fellows – graduate assistants in math-intensive programs, such as engineering.

Guadalupe Lozano, an associate research professor in the Department of Mathematics, will serve as one of the project's faculty scholars, designing the courses and recruiting and mentoring the graduate fellows who will teach them. Lozano's research includes equitable transitions to the university and student access to and success in math courses that lay the foundation for success in STEM disciplines. She is also the director of the UArizona Center for University Education Scholarship, which aims to strengthen the practice of scholarship and innovation in university teaching and learning.

"Pre-calculus is a course that tends to have one of the direst failure rates in the nation," Lozano said. Courses like pre-calculus can act as barriers for students' progress toward STEM degrees, which require calculus. But they can also act as barriers for college success more generally, because approaches to remediate lack of success in pre-calculus often reinforce students' deficits rather than focus on their assets, she said.

Outreach FAMILIA, Lozano said, aims to ensure "the students taking the course are not just doing well and earning the credit but developing their science identities and mathematical identities, that they have the possibility of flourishing and being nurtured toward STEM degrees, or at least feel identified with the college culture and not be shut out by mathematics."

Francesca López, a former associate dean and professor in the College of Education who helped develop the program, will remain involved as a faculty scholar.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has upended school for teachers, students and parents, the forced switch to online learning may be an opportunity for Outreach FAMILIA, Trejo said. Program leaders are looking at the possibility of expanding the opportunities virtually to the entire state.