A Bridge to the Stars

Photo by Brandon Parigo, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

UMKC accepting applications to innovative pipeline to improve STEM diversity

For five years, Daniel H. McIntosh, Ph.D., distinguished professor of physics and astronomy, has been getting inner-city high school students in Kansas City involved in science through A Bridge to the Stars Scholarship and Mentoring Program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

This popular program will enter another year as preapplications for award eligibility are being accepted through Oct 13 for the next group of Bridge Scholars. Classes will run during the spring 2018 semester. The pre-application is available online.

The Bridge to the Stars Program is a way to reach urban high school students and get them excited about learning science and the possibilities of pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in college and beyond. McIntosh’s program provides low-income and underrepresented minority students, the Bridge Scholars, full scholarships (tuition, fees, course materials and a Metro bus pass) to enroll in one of his interactive freshman Astronomy courses. McIntosh’s vision is to use a semester-long bridge opportunity to reach high school students who traditionally do not self-identify with high-tech careers.

“Showing high school students they can succeed in a college science course is very important,” McIntosh said.

“Through this program, we’re providing students with high impact exposure to science through innovative experiential learning with a professional scientist,” McIntosh said. “It’s a bridge between high school and college, and it helps students develop important success skills like team work and technical communication that foster student success.”

The need to grow and diversify the STEM workforces is a well-known national challenge. Studies show that only about one third of first year college students interested in STEM achieve a bachelor’s degree. These numbers are even more dire nationally for students from diverse backgrounds and low-income families. McIntosh’s Introduction to Astronomy courses are student-centered explorations of the cosmos that provide access and engagement that are critical for encouraging students from all backgrounds, McIntosh explained.

Since the program began, 45 scholarships have been awarded and 98 percent of scholars have passed the course with an average grade of B.

“This success is even more remarkable when one considers that the high school students’ performance is on par with that of over 500 UMKC students enrolled in the same courses,” McIntosh pointed out.

Primary funding comes from the NASA Missouri Space Grant Consortium, part of the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program. Additional funding during the first trial semester was provided by the UMKC College of Arts and Sciences, and later by the Hispanic Development Fund.

While the program capitalizes on proven interactive learning strategies adopted by McIntosh, he has also trained a dozen UMKC undergraduate interns (Bridge Mentors) to work with Bridge Scholars during the semester to ensure success in the program and a smooth transition to university expectations.

“Mentoring experiences will enhance training and interest in pursuing STEM education careers,” McIntosh said. At the end of each semester, the Bridge Scholars and Mentors meet with McIntosh for a pizza party, games and STEM career counseling and advice.

New during the summer of 2017, McIntosh introduced a third tier to A Bridge to the Stars in which previous scholars could enroll in a freshmen science laboratory experience for UMKC credit. This course introduced Bridge Scholars to scientific research and Big Data science through authentic hands-on experiences centered on their own exploration of data from McIntosh’s actual research.

“I was thrilled to see juniors from Hogan Prep with no previous data analysis experience present to their peers and UMKC students their own research study of more than 50,000 galaxies at the end of a short 8-week course,” McIntosh said. “This demonstrates the power of interactive and experiential science learning that I want to bring to all students.”

McIntosh is a 2017-2019 Norman Royall Distinguished Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. He joined the UMKC Department of Physics and Astronomy in 2008. McIntosh is a science educator with a passion for bringing a conceptual understanding of the physical universe to all students.

“Because my classes are very active, meaning there are many opportunities to discuss ideas with peers, students gain an excellent understanding of scientific concepts and they really have fun learning!”

McIntosh is also an expert on how galaxies like the Milky Way have changed and grown during cosmic history. Much of his scientific work over the last 15 years has involved using the Hubble Space Telescope to study the development of galaxies.

About the University of Missouri-Kansas City
The University of Missouri-Kansas City, one of four University of Missouri campuses, is a public university serving more than 16,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. UMKC engages with the community and economy based on its six-part mission: placing student success at the center; leading in life and health sciences; advancing urban engagement; excelling in visual and performing arts; embracing diversity; and promoting research and economic development. For more information about UMKC, visit umkc.edu. You can also find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, see us on Instagram and watch us on YouTube. Read our students’ stories at #UMKCGoingPlaces.

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