Imagine Possibilities

by Accolades Staff
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A new five-year $963,000 Science Education Partnership award to UT from the National Institutes of Health is allowing nearly every sophomore student in Campbell and Union Counties to spend several weeks exploring career options in science, technology, engineering, math, and medical science (STEMM).

Possibilities in Postsecondary Education and Science—also known as PIPES—will aim to reduce perceived educational barriers, promote college awareness, raise knowledge of critical public health needs, and introduce STEMM-related career opportunities to students at Campbell County Comprehensive High School, Jellico High School, and Union County High School, which are all located in rural areas of Appalachia.

The program will engage students in activities that help them learn more about strengths and interests and explore potential barriers they may encounter in attending college as well as career options in STEMM fields.

“Most interventions to increase STEMM interest focus solely on exposure to research opportunities,” said Erin Hardin, associate professor of psychology at UT and co-primary investigator for the grant. “Our program is unique because it integrates a focus on career exploration in general and college-going barriers and supports in particular. Getting students interested in STEMM won’t work if those students believe college isn’t an option for them.”

Multiple entities at UT will be instrumental in making this effort successful, including the College of Arts and Sciences; the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences; the Center for Environmental Biotechnology; the Appalachian Teaching Project; Engineering Diversity Programs; and the UT Graduate School of Medicine.

“This interdisciplinary effort is very unique in targeting youth in rural Appalachian communities,” said Melinda Gibbons, associate professor of counselor education at UT and co-primary investigator for the grant. “We want to develop sustainable interventions that increase support for higher education and interest in STEMM. We’ll be collecting data along the way to see who goes on to college as well as who declares a STEMM-related major.”

Additional components of the grant include peer mentoring, professional development for school counselors and STEMM teachers, and a student summer camp on UT’s campus.

Learn more about the program at