A partnership between the University System of Maryland and Prince George’s County schools led to increased student interest in STEM fields, higher scores on the science portion of Maryland State Assessments and more students entering STEM fields in college, according to the project’s final report.

The USM’s Math Science Partnership Minority Student Pipeline aimed “to expand the minority student pipeline in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in higher education, by employing strategies engaging STEM faculty, teachers, undergraduates and high school students,” the report read. The USM’s Education Policy and Student Life Committee reviewed the report on Sept. 20.

Nancy Shapiro, USM associate vice chancellor for education and outreach, said the project grew out of a “special need for increasing exposure to science and excitement for science in lower income and minority students.”

For Prince George’s County, which really is a majority-minority county, if we invest in that county and bring those students into higher education, … it’s a very worthwhile and impactful kind of experience,” Shapiro said. “You’re not just having an influence on the students who are in the programs directly, but you’re really having an influence on all the students who see those students being successful in science. You plant these seeds and we have every expectation that they will just grow like wildfire.”

The USM received a $12.4 million grant to fund the project from 2008-2014, with a one-year extension into 2015, Shapiro said. The partnership was a multi-pronged effort to encourage participation in the STEM fields.

For five years, faculty from the University of Maryland and Prince George’s Community College held a series of summer workshops to train fourth through eighth grade teachers in science content, Shapiro said. The program also offered Prince George’s County high school students the opportunity to take science classes for college credit through PGCC or Bowie State University, she added.

In addition, high school science teachers worked with faculty from several universities on research experiences and incorporate research methodology into their classrooms, Shapiro said. Science majors at the University of Maryland also had the opportunity to explore the teaching profession through formal training and guided experiences in the public schools, she added.

Despite some initial hesitation among Prince George’s County teachers, Gladys Whitehead, executive director of curriculum and instruction for county schools, said the partnership was “very successful.”

“As with any program, when the teachers started, they were skeptical,” Whitehead said. “But as they began to participate in the activities, and they began to take their lessons back to the classroom, [teachers] began to understand how they could change and improve their teaching to help support their kids better.”

Because elementary school teachers teach every subject, they might be less comfortable teaching science material they did not major in or have less experience with, Shapiro said. The partnership led summer workshops in chemistry, biology, physics and earth sciences to increase teacher content knowledge in these areas, she added. Pre-tests and post-tests given to teachers show that teacher content knowledge increased, Shapiro said. Teacher test scores in physics rose from 28 to 61 percent after training, according to the report.

“Students can’t learn what they haven’t been taught, and teachers can’t teach what they haven’t learned,” Shapiro said. “You need to put teachers with good knowledge and experience and teaching; then we will get more students into the pipeline that are more prepared.”

Andrew Elby, an associate professor in the college of education, led the professional development institutes for Prince George’s County teachers. He said the teachers were “very enthusiastic” to improve their teaching in the sciences.

“We did find that with all the pressures on them, … it was sometimes hard for them to go as far as going they wanted to go in devoting more time to student-centered scientific inquiry,” Elby said. “But overall, a lot of teachers really did get more scientific discussion going in their classrooms.”

County high school students also had the opportunity to earn college credit in the sciences, either during the summer at Bowie State University or by taking classes taught by PGCC faculty in county high schools, Shapiro said. Nearly all of these students entered college immediately after graduating, about half of these students pursued STEM fields, and of the students entering STEM fields, 80 percent remained in STEM for at least one year, Shapiro added.

Christine Barrow, PGCC dean for sciences technology engineering and math, said the partnership was a “tremendously positive” experience for the institutions involved. The partnership established a valuable network of educators that will lead to further opportunities for collaboration, Barrow said.

“Even years after the original grant has ended, we still can call on these individuals if we have another idea, or if somebody has a question,” Barrow said. “I know exactly who to call over at the University of Maryland, I know exactly who to call over at Bowie State, I know exactly who to call over at the school system, and we all now have that network so we can continue to work with each other.”

Shapiro said this project demonstrated that university-public school partnerships are “worth investing in.” The system is currently working on a supplemental grant program to focus on computer science instruction in the county.

“Even though the [original grant] money has run out … we’ve developed relationships that are going to be sustainable,” Shapiro said.