National Science Foundation
Parents + Career Planning Tools + Math + Science = Student Success

What do parents need to know to educate and encourage their children to consider careers in mathematics, the sciences or engineering, as well as to gain lifelong essential skills? How can higher education help parents and students think more strategically about the K-12 preparation needed to keep science career options open?

The University of Kentucky’s Appalachian Mathematics and Science Partnership (AMSP), in collaboration with the Kentucky nonprofit Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, has developed and is coordinating "College Reality Stores" at four of its partner university sites. The stores engage parents and students in simulations intended to educate them about the realities of and essentials for, career preparation in science and mathematics. For many parents and students, learning about how to finance a college education; what types of courses the student should take in high school; the array of academic programs in mathematics and the sciences available in college; and personal/cultural adjustments needed for college can make a real difference in having the confidence needed to seriously consider going to college and pursuing studies in these fields. More than 600 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors signaled their interest in the program by registering at their high school counseling offices in Eastern Kentucky and Southwestern Virginia. The first College Reality Store "set up shop" --just like a mall--on the campus of the University of Virginia at Wise in February 2006. Ten colleges and an array of local businesses, including hospitals and engineering firms that employ people with strong mathematics and science skills, engaged the students, answering questions and providing information about career options and the education required to pursue them.

The AMSP research agenda includes a component to study the mathematics and science postsecondary aspirations of seniors graduating from a small cohort of central Appalachian high schools. In this study, the researchers are investigating the final stages of the decision-making process that propels Appalachian high school students to go on to college and select careers in which mathematics and science are important. The research also examines the critically necessary engagement of parents and the rural community context as factors in student achievement in mathematics, science and technology.

In Georgia, the Partnership for Reform in Science and Mathematics (PRISM), a Comprehensive Partnership funded by the Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program, is getting the message out to parents and students through the first wave of a major Public Awareness Campaign from January through March 2006. A basic tenet of this public awareness campaign is that a simple equation-- "math + science = success"--repeated many times and in many contexts, just might make a difference in the life of a K-12 student who is being nudged to think seriously about the possibility of a better future, a satisfying career, and life success.

After a year of research and a thorough review of the qualitative and quantitative results obtained from parents and students, market researchers and an Atlanta advertising agency developed the campaign in collaboration with the PRISM Leadership Team of science and mathematics educators from the University System of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Education. "Before we could determine how to help Georgia communities best aid our students, we had to understand the existing parent and student attitudes and behaviors around science and mathematics," said Jan Kettlewell, principal investigator of PRISM and University System of Georgia associate vice chancellor for P-16 Initiatives. In an important finding from Phase I of the baseline research, researchers found that high school students surveyed in four diverse regions of Georgia overwhelmingly agreed that it is their parents--not their teachers, not their coaches or religious leaders, not their peers, not the celebrities with whom they are enamored at the moment--who exert the greatest influence on how they do in school. Surprisingly, many parents underestimate the significance of their own influence. Those who took the parent survey were split almost evenly in their perceptions of their own abilities to help their children do well in school. Many parents perceived themselves to be only as influential as teachers, but not necessarily more influential.

An important aspect of this public relations campaign is its coherence with PRISM's other strategies: to advance the teaching and learning of high quality mathematics and science; to attract and retain excellent teachers; and to enhance professional development for teachers of kindergarten through college. As part of the public awareness campaign, PRISM has developed a Web site that includes a parent resource guide, available at Continuing research will identify outcomes from the campaign and set the stage for further messages to students, parents and the broader community.

AMSP Partners: Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky State University, Morehead State University, Pikeville College, Union College, University of Virginia college at Wise, University of Tennessee, Prestonburg Community College, Somerset community College, numerous school districts

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