Each summer, a cohort of students on MIT’s campus hurry out of dorms and off to classes. Excited. They’re not the incoming first-year class, but students enrolled in the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES), a six-week enrichment program run by the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs (OEOP). With a mission of empowering middle and high school students from diverse backgrounds to become future scientists and engineers, OEOP has offered programing like MITES for more than 40 years.
Empowering young scientists and engineers is personal for OEOP executive director, Eboney Hearn ’01. At MIT she first found a group of students excited about math and science like she was. “Coming to MIT really changed my life,” says Hearn. “I found an incredible community of fellow black students from around the country who got really jazzed about the techy stuff, and who deeply supported each other’s success at the Institute, so I wanted to make sure other students from diverse backgrounds had access to MIT.”
To help high-achieving underserved and underrepresented middle and high school students access rigorous higher education in STEM, OEOP offers three enrichment programs including MITES — all free of charge. Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery focuses on exposing students to new areas of STEM with hands-on classes and seminars for local middle and high school students, while the MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC) expands the reach of OEOP far beyond campus by offering a six-month online program for high school students focused on STEM and technical writing projects along with an emphasis on preparing for the college admissions process. “Our big challenge has always been, ‘How do we serve more students?’” says Hearn. “MOSTEC has allowed us to do that.”
Though OEOP programs take different forms, the goal is always the same: increase the diversity of future scientists and engineers. And with tremendous financial support from corporations, foundations, and individuals, like MIT alumni, OEOP is meeting that goal — programs have reached over 4,000 students with 350 students enrolled in OEOP programs last year alone. The six-year college graduation rate for OEOP alumni is 89 percent while the national average is 59.3 percent. More than 80 percent of program alumni earn degrees in a STEM field. In addition, almost 40 percent of past OEOP grads matriculate to MIT with many attending other top institutions around the country. Currently there are 213 undergrads and 19 graduate students at the Institute who have completed a program through OEOP — a fact that keeps the OEOP alumni community strong. “Many students come back and work in the program either as instructors and teaching assistants,” says Hearn.
As OEOP continues to grow, the programs retain their hands-on approach — something that’s important to Hearn. “I couldn’t do this if I didn’t have the opportunity to engage with the students and hear their stories,” she says. “Hearing the students talk about what is challenging to them, I love being able to say ‘You can do this, you are bright, curious, resilient, and you can be successful at a place like MIT.’”
Though every OEOP student story is different, Hearn says all students leave the programs with the same two things: confidence and community. “Students gain the confidence to apply to MIT and other selective colleges, and also have a chance to identify with people who are similarly excited about math, science, and academic excellence,” says Hearn.
This article first appeared on the Slice of MIT blog.