Engaging College Assistance Migrant Program Scholars in a Virtual STEM Institute During the COVID-19 Pandemic
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Amber Meyer*, Claudia Burgess, Vincent Genareo, Nina Soto Ramirez, and Alejandro Tovar
Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland, U.S.
*Corresponding author: almeyer@salisbury.edu 

Abstract

Salisbury University in the United States received a College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) grant to recruit and support migrant agricultural workers to obtain university degrees in the field of education with an emphasis in STEM. As part of CAMP programming, the university facilitated a STEM Institute to 1) Engage CAMP Scholars in STEM curricula and standards, and 2) Highlight Scholar’s funds of knowledge and cultural assets as future teachers (teacher candidates). The purpose of this article is to describe the process and products of the STEM Institute. Overall, the STEM Institute appeared successful in exposing Scholars to STEM concepts and creating STEM-based virtual field trips that incorporated K-12 content standards. The authors provide two recommendations for future STEM Institutes serving college level students enrolled in CAMP or with similar background experiences: provide technological assistance and ensure responsive, explicit instruction as well as independent work time.


Key words: STEM education, STEM Institute, migrant agricultural workers, College Assistance Migrant Program

          In the United States, the current undergraduate college student population is predominantly White (52.9% White, 20.9% Latinx, 15.1% Black, and 7.6% Asian) (Espinosa et al., 2019). Federal programs such as the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) have been developed to increase the diversity of the student population. In 1975, CAMP grants were created to assist the higher education attainment of migrant workers through the United States Office of Migrant Education (OME) (Madrid, 2019). Migrant workers in the United States are typically people of color who represent culturally, linguistically, and racially diverse populations who may be underrepresented in undergraduate university enrollment. At a national level, CAMP annually serves approximately 2,000 university students who are identified as seasonal or migrant farmworkers by providing support during their freshman year (U.S. Department of
Education, 2021). The supports provided through CAMP include personal, academic, and career counseling; tutoring; assisting students in understanding college processes such as admissions and financial aid; and exploration of social and cultural events. In 2016, the last year of available data, 88.1% of CAMP participants completed their first year and 96.5% of CAMP participants continued on to a second year, compared to the national overall first-year freshman completion rates of about 61% for two-year institutes, and about 81% for four-year institutes (U.S. Department of Education, 2018). Based on these data, in comparison to the traditional U.S. college student population, CAMP is successfully supporting migrant workers in accessing and navigating higher education.

          Recently, OME identified the goal of focusing on higher education attainment in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields through the CAMP grant because people of color are underrepresented in STEM occupations (National Science Foundation, 2021). To illustrate, Black workers make up 9% of the STEM workforce and Latinx workers represent 8% (Kennedy et al., 2021). With this in mind, the university received a CAMP grant to recruit and support migrant workers in the Mid-Atlantic area of the United States to obtain university degrees in the field of education with an emphasis in STEM. The writers of the grant believe opportunities to participate in STEM educational activities throughout elementary and secondary education play an important role in the future decision to work in STEM related fields (Genareo et al., 2018). In addition, teachers of color who represent culturally, linguistically, and racially
diverse populations, such as migrant workers, can serve as role models that possibly inspire students who are underrepresented in university enrollment and STEM fields.

          As part of its CAMP programming, we, the CAMP staff, facilitated a STEM Institute for the first time, and it occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though originally planned to be face-to-face, the restrictions required the Institute to be done virtually. The purpose of this article is to describe the processes and products of the STEM Institute. The objectives of the STEM Institute were: 1) Engaging CAMP Scholars in STEM curricula and standards, and 2) Highlighting Scholars’ funds of knowledge and cultural assets as teacher candidates.

Literature Review

STEM Education

          Teacher candidates, or those studying to be teachers, need to understand how to engage in, and later integrate, STEM concepts and pedagogies. STEM education goes beyond presenting content material; it engages learners to seek new solutions with evolving knowledge and tools by providing learners with the opportunity to solve authentic problems through a multi-faceted lens of disciplines (Moore et al., 2014; Kennedy & Odell, 2014; Venville et al., 2012). This is complex and challenging. Teacher candidates are themselves sometimes forced to grapple with understanding and applying new academic content and unfamiliar innovative technology with their students or in their own teacher learning. In addition, candidates must learn to simultaneously scaffold and model the use of integrated disciplines with their students.

          In order to accomplish the complex tasks of integrating the interdisciplinary solutionfocused approach often required in STEM education, teacher candidates must not only demonstrate strong content knowledge and skills but also have the opportunity to practice and develop skillful teaching strategies to share this knowledge with others. This is especially true regarding the aspects of efficient use of technology (Montero-Fleta, 2017; Roshdi, 2017). Research has found that facilitating successful informal STEM learning experiences (hands-on, play-based experiences grounded in real-world learning) is an essential part of STEM education (Dani et al., 2017). Therefore, integrating technology into STEM education creates a learning environment that teacher candidates must learn to navigate. Furthermore, it is imperative that teacher candidates learn to successfully facilitate STEM learning opportunities through technology. Effective and relevant STEM teaching might encourage young students to be interested in, and pursue, STEM careers (Genareo et al., 2016).

STEM Institutes

          One way to assist teacher candidates to learn STEM pedagogies and content is through the implementation of STEM Institutes. These Institutes can focus on the specific needs of teacher candidates and provide opportunities to participate in authentic STEM educational activities. The University CAMP staff believed STEM Institutes for teacher candidates should intentionally include teachers of color who represent culturally, linguistically, and racially diverse
populations, such as migrant workers, to serve as role models to possibly inspire students who are underrepresented in university enrollment and some STEM fields.

          Few extant articles describe efforts to introduce migrant students into the STEM field through STEM Institutes. The existing studies tend to focus on highlighting possible STEM careers during secondary education (grades 6 -12) to a general population and demographic location (rural). To illustrate, the University of Washington implemented three annual Yakima Valley Science and Engineering Festivals in a rural area in central Washington (Munn et al., 2018). The
authors of this study argued that people living in rural communities were not as likely to have the opportunities to meet STEM professionals and visit the science centers, museums, zoos, and aquariums as the people living in urban areas. They cited geographical isolation, socioeconomic disadvantages, and in many cases, language barriers as reasons for the lack of opportunity. This study mentioned inviting migrant workers to the festival but did not focus specifically on serving their unique needs as part of the event. In another study, the Oklahoma State University sponsored a STEM Institute that served Latinx students ages 13-19 through animal science education and was designed to introduce Latinx youth to college life and STEM-based career opportunities (Sallee et al., 2019). The students were identified as rural Latinx youth, but they were not specified as being involved in migrant agricultural work. Both studies reported that the results indicated a positive impact on students’ perception of STEM as a career option.

Description of the CAMP STEM Institute

          This article addresses the gap in the discourse regarding the STEM educational experiences of CAMP Scholars who were raised in families that performed migrant or seasonal agricultural work. Scholars were engaged in a STEM Institute over five days, which was led by two STEM professors at Salisbury University located in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. All sessions took place virtually over ZoomTM due to the limitations caused by the COVID-19
global pandemic. Each day’s session lasted three and a half hours and was broken down into three parts: content instruction, Scholar application and implementation, and review. This STEM Institute focused on having Scholars use Google EarthTM technologies and place-based geoscience education (Semken, 2005) to develop virtual field trips to a location that they had previously lived in that it provided a sense of home. Place-based geoscience education (Semken,
2005) highlighted not only the geological and natural attributes of place, but also the diverse meanings regarding the sense of place through authentic learning experiences and cultural sensitivities shared by individuals connected to the given place. Scholars were guided to look at environmental and cultural sustainability and the ways that policies and practices reinforce that sustainability.

          Scholars were supported in a variety of ways during the development of a virtual field trip. First, they were introduced to an abbreviated list of relevant K-6 content standards in language arts, science, mathematics, social studies, and the arts. The K-6 content standards were from the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. These two frameworks provide a guide toward National Curriculum Standards. Next, they were assisted in choosing a grade level focus that best aligned with their field trip goals and their teaching
interests. Additionally, Scholars were engaged in the process of conceptualizing how imagery could support the planning and development of their virtual field trip. Finally, they were asked to use science, math, and at least one other content area (art, architecture or engineering, social studies, and language arts) to consider how to represent the diverse meanings regarding the sense of place with cultural sensitivity.

          The Scholars were encouraged to develop virtual field trips in ways that were personally meaningful while considering the educational and experiential value to students. Through an inquiry-based design process, Scholars developed individual needs for content knowledge such as architectural elements, weather, plants and animals of a given region, culture, food, historical timelines, etc. specific to their identified place. Beyond the content addressed above, Scholars also acquired knowledge associated with technology use. To begin, Scholars were provided a
completed Google EarthTM technology project as a model. They were then engaged in guided practice as a whole group to complete essential steps for setting up the STEM project. These essential steps included how to set up their Google Drives, launch Google Earth, and navigate within Google Earth and Google Earth Projects. They were also introduced to the specific features of the digital platform required to create the virtual field trip such as inserting maps, adding images, and utilizing Street Views with 360-degree capabilities.

          At the conclusion of the STEM Institute, Scholars had the opportunity to share and discuss their virtual field trips with a group of individuals from the university and the community who attended the biannual CAMP meeting. This experience was a culminating event that allowed the Scholars to share their personal connections to place as well as their STEM content knowledge and technology skills (See Figures 1 and 2).

Methodology

STEM Institute Participants

          The participants of the STEM Institute were two first-year CAMP scholars who were raised by parent(s) who worked as migrants in seasonal agricultural fields, as well as the Institute Director who planned and led the Institute. The Scholars were both declared education majors. They had varying degrees of comfort with technology required for university such as Zoom, email, online learning management systems, and navigating university-wide required programs and sites. They also had limited STEM learning opportunities as provided through their high school classes. The Institute Director was a mathematics education professor and a key CAMP personnel.

Data Sources

          Three data sources informed the description and analysis of the Institute. A reflective journal kept by the Institute Director highlighted the processes of the STEM Institute, including her experiences with the Scholars, the planning decisions they made, and her experiences during the Institute. The CAMP Scholars also generated artifacts of the virtual field trips that provided insight into the application of STEM content, K-12 STEM learning standards, and how they applied their cultural knowledge to the place of interest. Finally, CAMP Scholar presentations were observed and recorded to further analyze any additional information that was verbally shared beyond the artifact.

Data Analysis/Measures

          The data were analyzed inductively and deductively as a case study using grounded theory (Merrian & Tisdell, 2016). Codes were developed based on the STEM Institute outcomes using a descriptive coding strategy (Saldana, 2016) that helped understand the type of engagement of the scholars. The codes developed for the first objective, engaging CAMP Scholars in STEM Curriculum, were STEM engagement, problem-based learning, and content standard integration. The codes identified for the second standard were family, home, and self.

Results

          The analyzed data provided promising findings related to the Institute’s objectives, both presented below.

Objective 1. Engaging CAMP Scholars’ STEM Curricula and Content Standards.

          The first objective appeared successful. Scholars were engaged in STEM curricula during the Institute and were able to integrate K-12 STEM content standards in their virtual field trips. The Scholar engagement with STEM curricula included conversations and virtual investigations into region-specific flora and fauna, regional geography, designing and interpreting graphs and charts, and technology presentation, integration, and development. For teacher candidates, the
Institute followed a project-based learning model. The Scholars were involved in authentic teaching practices (content integration, teaching, and presentations) through inquiry processes of asking and answering questions as they developed a project – their Google Earth presentation – that demonstrated their understanding of the content; this pedagogy is often noted as being effective in science education (Krajcik & Blumenfeld, 2006).

          Each Scholar worked throughout the Institute on creating a virtual field trip focused on a given grade level that aligned to curricular standards. In developing their virtual presentations, Scholars engaged in a number of Next Generation Science Standards (2021) science and engineering practices: Analyzing and Interpreting Data through their use of graphs and maps embedded in their virtual field trip presentations; Developing and Using Models as they created interactive mapping; and Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information through their presentations of the virtual field trips. Additionally, the Scholars engaged in mathematics curricula by utilizing the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (2010). They developed tables and graphs analyzing average temperatures and yearly climate data (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.3.MD.B.3; NGSS 3-ESS2.1). They also calculated distances through the
conversion of miles and kilometers (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.7.RP.A.1) in the Google Earth maps they developed.

Figure 1

Images from Scholar Presentations

          Scholars were also able to identify and integrate not only the aforementioned STEM content standards, but other K-12 content standards into their presentations. With assistance from the Institute staff, they created content appropriate for specific grade levels of their choice. For example, the Scholars were able to incorporate Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (2010) by presenting typed questions in the virtual field trip that children could read and answer (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.3.3). These questions served three purposes:
encouraging future K-12 student comprehension through making self-to-text and self-to-world connections; addressing Semken’s (2005) recommendations for teaching Geoscience; and facilitating inquiry learning as directed by the NGSS (Wright & Gotwals, 2017).

Objective 2. Highlighting Scholars’ Funds of Knowledge and Cultural Assets as Future Teachers.

          The second objective, highlighting the Scholars’ funds of knowledge and cultural assets, appeared successful as scholars integrated their home communities and cultures in virtual field trips and presentations. Due to the fact that Scholars were able to choose the place of focus for their virtual field trip, each chose a place associated with their family’s cultural and/or indigenous roots. They integrated personal photos from the place and researched topics of interest based on their own experiences or the experiences of their family members. One Scholar shared a picture of his grandfather in a plaza. He then explained that plazas hold an important significance to the Latinx community as a location to gather and socialize as well as buy and sell goods. The Scholars took great efforts and pride to create a virtual field trip that highlighted their chosen place in meaningful ways. They expressed excitement in sharing their passions for their places with instructors and with others.

Figure 2

Images by Scholars using Google Street View

Discussion and Implications

          Overall, the implementation of a STEM educational experience, attended by two CAMP Scholars enrolled in a university in education fields, to develop a virtual field trip during a STEM Institute appeared successful. However, after analyzing the data, we have recommendations for future STEM Institutes serving college level students enrolled in CAMP or with similar background experiences. The first recommendation is to provide technological assistance. The second recommendation is to ensure responsive, explicit instruction, as well as independent work time.

Recommendation One: Provide Technological Assistance

          Successful STEM Institutes that serve CAMP Scholars should provide strong technological assistance in addition to providing content knowledge. The opportunity to practice and develop the required skills to share this knowledge with others through the efficient use of technology is an essential component of STEM Institutes and STEM education (Montero-Fleta, 2017). Throughout this STEM Institute, it was discovered that CAMP Scholars needed technological
assistance beyond those associated with creating virtual field trip projects. For example, assistance was provided to find images online; understand and adhere to copyright laws; download documents and organize folders; create and save YouTubeTM videos; create voice recordings; and create and utilize tables. CAMP Scholars also benefited from a focused introduction to online resources relevant to STEM and cultural content.

Recommendation Two: Responsive, Explicit Instruction and Work Time

          STEM education is an integration of disciplines to present a solution process with current tools and technologies (Kennedy & Odell, 2014). Therefore, a successful STEM Institute requires students to grapple with understanding and applying new academic content and unfamiliar, innovative technology. STEM Institute facilitators need to be responsive to the needs and interests of the participants. Instructional content must be planned in an ongoing manner to effectively respond to these needs and interests. These needs may span across areas such as academic content, technology, clarifying ideas, goals, and project purpose. One approach that provided collaboration between the facilitators and the CAMP Scholars was to have the Scholars develop a list of resources that they wanted to gather along with information that they wanted to present to bring their presentation to life. The facilitators then shared possible resources with the Scholars to enhance the project. The Scholars were also given time to work independently and then share their progress for direct feedback as well as ask questions. The combination of these strategies created space and opportunity for learning STEM content and technology and the nuance of its application.

Limitations and Conclusion

          The STEM Institute facilitators, CAMP Scholars, and key stakeholders who viewed virtual field trip presentations reported on a survey afterward that the virtual field trips were well designed and presented. We also found that the STEM Institute was promising in meeting the stated objectives. Still, there was room to contemplate improvements. First, it would be helpful if the Institute was extended over the course of two weeks rather than one week to balance and enhance the introduction of STEM content and technology. Additionally, due to the level of support with technology required by the CAMP Scholars, compounded by difficulties created by distance requirements of COVID-19, it would be beneficial to hold the STEM Institute in person rather than virtually to enhance the professional learning community connectedness. In-person dialogue may have also allowed for more comfort in the sharing of students’ funds of knowledge and cultural assets with the entire group. The STEM Institute is planned to be offered in-person in future sessions with additional CAMP Scholars taking part as our recruitment increases the number of participants.

          It is vital that we continue to increase the access and attainment of higher education to historically underserved populations in the United States. This has implications for underrepresented populations in other countries as well. In addition, it is important to recruit with and promote the STEM field occupations to underrepresented populations. Opportunities to participate in effective STEM activities throughout elementary and secondary education can play an important role in the future decision to work in STEM related fields. We feel STEM Institutes for teacher candidates may develop their comfort in STEM area content and pedagogy, which, we hope, can improve their STEM work with future students and encourage future generations to choose STEM careers.

Amber Meyer is an assistant professor at Salisbury University. She earned her Ph.D. from Michigan State University. Dr. Meyer specializes in literacy studies and equity in education.

Claudia Burgess is a professor at Salisbury University. Dr. Burgess received her Ph. D. from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests involve examining mathematics education, inquiry-based instruction, and cognitively guided instruction.

Vincent Genareo is an associate professor at Salisbury University. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota. Dr. Genareo serves multiple roles as an assessment specialist across Salisbury University, with professional organizations, and in collaborations with other universities across the United States.

Nina Soto Ramirez, the Project Director for the USDE CAMP at Salisbury University, graduated from Pennsylvania State University. She has a rich history of supporting seasonal, migrant, and temporary workers gain access to higher education in the northeastern United states.

Alejandro Tovar, the Recruitment Specialist for the USDE CAMP at Salisbury University, graduated from Adams State University. As an alumnus of the USDE CAMP, he is a dedicated advocate working to improve the working and living
conditions of agricultural workers across the country through educational opportunities.

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