ASPIRE: Advancing STEM Preparation through Inspiring Research Experiences
ASPIRE is a project-based STEM mentorship program at the University of Georgia. The program started in 2016 as a student-led initiative to bridge Title I public middle and high school students in the state of Georgia to graduate student and faculty mentors at UGA in order to promote participation and success in STEM fields amongst students from underprivileged and/or underrepresented backgrounds.
Middle and high school teachers and administrators are invited to request an ASPIRE Day campus visit. During ASPIRE Days, visiting groups are welcomed onto UGA's Athens campus for a modularized mentorship and STEM exposure experience designed to facilitate progress on student projects, equip students with enhanced knowledge and skills specific to their areas of interest, inspire students through exposure to state-of-the-art research facilities and speakers, and promote further exploration of STEM career paths and self-esteem in STEM disciplines.
Drawing from time-tested mentorship models developed by some of the nation's leading authorities in scientific teaching (Handelsman et al., 2005; Starbase 2.0; CNCS; National Mentoring Partnership; Afterschool Alliance), these early iterations of the ASPIRE program match middle and high school students preparing projects for local, regional, state, national, and international STEM fairs and competitions with advanced upperclassmen undergraduates, graduate students, professionals, and faculty mentors. Mentors are chosen through an application-based process. Their major areas, research programs, areas of specialization, and mentorship experience are considered when matching mentors to mentees. Mentor contact information will be provided to teachers and students during campus visits in order to foster continued mentorship activity; teachers and students may arrange further correspondence in this way, and the ASPIRE Program will subsidize any costs mentors incur to visit middle and high schools to continue their mentorship activity.
Make a direct impact on a student's education. Mentorship programs like ASPIRE have been demonstrated to foster participation in STEM fields both while in school and once in the workforce. Not only has mentorship been associated with higher GPA's, SAT scores, and graduation rates; it has been shown to narrow the achievement gap between groups of students with unequal access to resources, foster goal-setting behaviors, and strengthen self-esteem in math and science. Mentorship empowers and emboldens students.
The ASPIRE Outreach Program engages middle and high school students at Title I public schools in project-based mentorship, connecting educators and students in underserved and underrepresented communities with UGA student and faculty mentors. By building bridges between UGA and high-achieving students in underprivileged and/or underrepresented areas, we plant the seeds of UGA's bright future. We are so committed to this idea that we will subsidize trips to schools so you can continue mentoring students even after they visit campus. By fanning the flames, we can illuminate our community.
Mentees who receive awards at the Georgia Science & Engineering Fair will be invited to present at the 2018 Integrative Research & Ideas Symposium (IRIS) on April 14, 2018. How exceedingly rare an occasion it is to see middle and high school students under the same roof as the undergraduates, graduate students, professionals, and faculty they aspire to follow.
This program is supported in part by the President’s Venture Fund through the generous gifts of the University of Georgia Partners and other donors.