Rural youth are at an academic disadvantage in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) with data showing that only 17 percent of students in rural high schools meet the American College Testing (ACT) College Readiness STEM Benchmark. Rural California schools face significant educational challenges in providing high-quality STEM education to their students due to: vast geographic distances characteristic of the large state of California; smaller budgets due to funding formulas that dictate school funding based on class size; limited resources to fund professional development for STEM teachers; and the disadvantage of not having access to local partners, non-profits, and universities (like their urban and suburban colleagues do) that could collaborate in expanding their STEM curriculum, practices, and projects. Additionally, research shows that the two main factors that deter rural youth from pursuing and succeeding in STEM are: 1) limited exposure to STEM career options and 2) inaccessibility to advanced coursework (American Society for Engineering Education). PUC, with highly accomplished faculty in the STEM disciplines, saw that they could help address the deterrents to rural youth pursuing and succeeding in STEM by expanding their distance learning capacity to provide STEM advanced coursework and STEM-focused career counseling services to rural California high school campuses while simultaneously providing these same offerings to its rural college student body. A unique aspect of their approach included seeking to allow high school students to qualify for dual-enrollment, meaning they could complete the STEM courses and receive both high-school and college credit. This approach would provide students the academic and emotional support for their age, while still having access to advanced and unique college courses taught by highly-qualified experts in STEM fields. However, to accomplish this PUC needed significant funding to upgrade their classrooms with the requisite advanced distance learning technology, equipment, components, and wiring.
To achieve the needed funding to provide expanded distance learning STEM education to high school students and college students at the three rural sites (four schools) in Angwin, Healdsburg, and La Selva Beach, Morrison worked with PUC to prepare and submit a competitive application for USDA Rural Development’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) Grant Program. The DLT Grant Program helps rural communities use the unique capabilities of telecommunications to connect to each other and to the world, overcoming the effects of remoteness and low population density. The USDA DLT Grant Program helps rural communities to acquire the technology and training necessary to connect educational and medical professionals with students, teachers, and patients in rural areas.
PUC was awarded USDA DLT Grant funding of $210,392 toward their efforts. PUC was one of just four Distance Learning and Telemedicine applications that were funded in California in the funding round they applied for. Through the distance learning technology provided by this program, PUC is now able to offer STEM-focused career counseling as well as courses such as Biotechnology, Environmental Studies, Management Information Systems, Chemistry (both B.A. and B.S. courses), Multimedia Communications (B.S.), Mathematics, Biomathematics, Data Science, Biophysics, and Physics, among others, to more than 1,550 rural California high school and college students.
About the client
Pacific Union College (PUC) is a fully accredited liberal arts college located in the rural community of Angwin, California. It was founded more than 130 years ago and provides its 1,100 students with all the advantages of a larger university – a strong academic reputation; cutting edge research and; classes taught by Fulbright scholars – with the benefits of a small college focused on the undergraduate experience. PUC also has a high school on its campus and strong ties with two high schools in the rural California communities of Healdsburg and La Selva Beach.