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Health Sciences & Technology Academy: A West Virginia STEM Success Story

COMMENTARY BY: ANN CHESTER

Ann Chester, Director, Health Sciences & Technology Academy

The Health Sciences & Technology Academy (HSTA) is a one-of-a-kind mentoring program started in West Virginia that helps underrepresented high school students enter and succeed in STEM-based undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Since its inception in 1994, the program has grown from nine teachers serving 44 students in Kanawha and McDowell Counties to a network of 80 teachers serving 800 students in 26 counties across the state. HSTA participants are primarily students who have grown up in rural communities and are first in their families to attend college. More than half are financially disadvantaged, and one-third are African American. The vast majority of HSTA graduates obtain a college education and many earn advanced degrees.

Implemented through West Virginia University in partnerships with Marshall University, Glenville State College, West Virginia State University and West Virginia’s other public institutions of higher education, HSTA’s main goals are to increa

se college attendance in Appalachia, improve STEM education in public schools, empower communities through youth leadership, and increase the number of healthcare providers and STEM educators in underserved communities.

To realize these goals, HSTA created a mentorship structure that supports student success and addresses individual educational and social needs. HSTA students engage in a rigorous academic program within the nurturing environment of a small after-school club. They apply learned concepts to real-life issues under the mentorship of teachers, community members, researchers, and their fellow students. The curriculum connects learning to students’ personal experiences. It rewards participants and teachers with generous incentives that recognize their accomplishments, and it offers, through the support of the West Virginia Legislature and state colleges and universities, substantial tuition waivers to successful participants who go on to attend an in-state institution for an undergraduate or STEM-based graduate degree.

A distinctive piece of HSTA is its students’ development of research projects that examine and address STEM and health issues faced by their communities. These projects form the core of the HSTA experience and turn the students into community advocates even as they prepare to move on to college.

HSTA’s accomplishments in West Virginia are exceptional. As of May 2018, HSTA graduates had earned 741 bachelor’s degrees, 229 master’s degrees, and 107 terminal degrees. An amazing 99% of HSTA graduates matriculate to college, 91% graduate from college, 87% of these students graduate with a 4-year degree or better, and 85% stay in West Virginia to work.

Ann Chester is assistant vice president for education partnerships at West Virginia University Health Sciences, director of Health Sciences & Technology Academy, director of Health Careers Opportunity Plan and deputy director of the Center of Excellence in Women’s Health.