Students as Scientists: Using Immersive Experiences and Near-Peer Mentoring to Build STEM Identity and Community

Giving students an opportunity to undertake fieldwork, learn about data collection and analysis, and work and live as part of a team of diverse individuals is a unique experience that can influence and shape future careers and lives. Engagement of young science enthusiasts in a rural community is a key goal of the Journey for Aspiring Students Pursuing Ecological Research (JASPER) program run by Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, which focuses on gray whale foraging ecology research. This unique project integrates research with STEM education by bringing together a team of graduate students, undergraduate students, and high school students for a six-week intensive field season each year, where students conduct research, hone teamwork and leadership skills, and build their STEM identity. Over the course of this internship, students learn how to use diverse technology to collect data, engage with the local community, and gain an understanding of marine ecology and the scientific process. Additionally, interns develop science communication skills in both formal and informal settings, including a community presentation and a blog post. Over seven years, JASPER has given 25 students a chance to interact with scientists and to be real scientists for a short while. We have been able to track 88% of these students; all are in STEM-related fields and reported that this program profoundly impacted their lives and careers. Whether or not students continue STEM career paths, the experience broadens their horizons and skill sets and helps engage the local community in current marine research.

Torres, Leigh G., Hildebrand, Lisa, Crews, Tracy D
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Current: The Journal of Marine Education, 37(2), pp. 35–47.
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