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Pushing for Equitable Futures in Higher Ed Admissions

The STEM PUSH Network has reached a major milestone in its goal of increasing equity in Higher Education admissions, as the first cohort of STEM PUSH Pre-College STEM Programs (PCSPs) have earned first-of its kind accreditation from Middle States Association Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools (MSA-CESS). As an active member of the Network reaching accreditation, the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health’s (AAIUH) Health Science Academy (HSA) celebrates the accomplishment of our colleagues and the visibility it brings to our collective work toward evidence-based systems change in Higher Education for under-represented students.

The MSA-CESS accreditation recognizes the culture of continuous improvement established across all programs in the STEM PUSH Network and documented by programs as they go through the accreditation process. Furthermore, accreditation is a ground-breaking step towards elevating the critical learning and skills development provided by PCSPs through increased visibility and value in the higher education admissions process, promoting greater equity in college admissions. Out-of-school educational programs experiences are disproportionately important for students who systematically have reduced access to advanced STEM experiences in their high schools, and accreditation validates these under-recognized opportunities.

The HSA is a STEM health sciences pipeline program for students of color serving grades 6-12. The AAIUH created the HSA afterschool pipeline program in collaboration with SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University (SUNY DS) in 1994 to engage underrepresented in medicine (URiM) high school students in STEM activities, and introduce them to health sciences education and careers. Not only do participants receive early instruction in topics typically reserved for college students, like anatomy, physiology, and more, they also are able to explore the wide variety of opportunities and career paths that exist in health sciences. Through exposure to labs, research, and lessons in health disparities, health equity and ethics, these students are given the tools to find their passion, and the roadmap to pursue a career they may never have pictured for themselves.

STEM PUSH partners develop, test, and implement equity centered, evidence-based practices for effective programming for students with the ultimate goal of changing how these experiences are factored into college admissions decisions and enable long-term student success. The HSA joined The STEM PUSH Network to work toward the collective aim of increasing the number of Black, Latina/o/e, and Indigenous students enrolling and persisting in STEM through undergraduate study. 

“We are so grateful for STEM PUSH's leadership and guidance, and we are very proud to be part of the first cohort of STEM afterschool programs to get MSA accreditation,” said Dr. Mary Valmont, Associate Executive Director for Health Science Education at the AAIUH. “Our membership in the STEM PUSH national network has been a game-changer. In the program’s 30 years since its founding, it has served approximately 3,000 students, and we believe that with this honor and verification of our curriculum grounded in health equity, we will be able to serve so many more in the coming years, and extend our pipeline to provide more services to our alumni.” 

The first cohort of STEM PUSH PCSCPs completed a rigorous continuous improvement process that included a self-study documenting improvements, evidence, and future goals, followed by site visits from MSA-CESS.

“This accreditation credential recognizes a diverse array of intensive STEM programs that engage Black, Latina/o/e, and Indigenous youth through equity-centered practices in ways that collectively increase their visibility and value through the college admissions and enrollment process,” said Disan Davis, Research Associate and Accreditation lead for the STEM PUSH Network.

STEM PUSH PCSPs like the HSA are established, intensive, STEM-focused, out-of-school-time programs intentionally serving underrepresented high schoolers through practices that center equity and prepare students for undergraduate STEM. These programs provide more than 100 hours of programming using curricula that are rigorous and reflective of advances in their various STEM fields.

During the 2023/24 academic year, the HSA pipeline program will serve over 250 students, grades 6-12. The program consists of three parts: a virtual middle school program, a 9th Grade Bridge Program, and then the 3-year long Academy (for grades 10-12), consisting of students from 10 different HSA partner high schools in Brooklyn. The Institute’s summer 2024 programing will provide stipends and STEM training for over 70 high school and college students.

Preliminary data from The STEM PUSH Network show that students who participate in STEM PUSH programs enroll and persist in STEM at significantly higher rates than those who do not. Across programs with enough data, for more than one year, with 80 percent of Black, Latinae/o/e, and Indigenous students enrolling and persisting in STEM for more than a year at colleges and universities.

Alison Slinskey Legg, Principal Investigator and Director of The BE STEM Center at University of Pittsburgh, the project’s supporting organization, said the accreditation, and the supporting data are important validations of the power of partnerships and community in providing students with opportunity. 

“This accreditation–and the results that we’re seeing– prove the collective can accomplish what no one program can, and we’re thrilled for our PCSP and admission partners, but most of all for the students who will ultimately benefit from this effort,” she said.

“PCSPs are at the forefront of educational innovation, and are powerful resources for community-based knowledge. Our partners share a commitment to serving Black, Latina/o/e and Indigenous students, and making the students’ participation in these programs count will go a long way in broadening access and opportunity in STEM” she added.

With MSA-CESS affirming the value of PCSP experience as preparation for success in STEM, Slinskey Legg is encouraged that admissions professionals, other PCSPs, schools, and funders will recognize the documented value of community-based, culturally responsible out-of-school experience in student success, and support this important work.

STEM PUSH welcomes admissions offices to join the STEM PUSH Admissions Network and partner with our PCSPs to revise current systems and recognize the STEM learning experiences of these students in the admissions and enrollment process. Together with partners, STEM PUSH aims to systematically elevate intensive out-of-school STEM learning experiences in admissions decisions. Learn more and connect here.

The STEM PUSH Network is operated by The Broadening Equity in STEM Center (BE STEM) at the University of Pittsburgh, and funded by the Eddie Bernice Johnson INCLUDES program. STEM PUSH is a comprehensive national effort to enhance U.S. leadership in discoveries and innovations by focusing on diversity, inclusion and broadening participation in STEM at scale. STEM PUSH is also co-funded by the NSF Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program and the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program.  


For additional information contact or Tim Francisco



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