In recognition of its strong commitment to student achievement, the University of Kentucky STEM Through Authentic Research and Training (START) program was honored with the Fayette County Public Schools (FCPS) Golden Apple Award.
The Golden Apple Award recognizes high-achieving programs and organizations that partner with FCPS to advance education and mentorship opportunities for students in the community. Members of the UK START program received the award on Wednesday, Sept. 14, at the FCPS State of the Schools Address event.
“This is a fantastic honor for the program and efforts of everyone involved,” said Luke Bradley, Ph.D., acting chair and professor of neuroscience at the UK College of Medicine. “We wouldn’t be here without the support of others and partnerships across the entire campus and with the community.”
The UK START program is a collaboration between UK colleges and local organizations to enhance the pipeline into college for first-generation and traditionally underrepresented students. The program focuses on introducing students early to science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers by integrating academic, social and professional experiences.
Faculty and staff involved with the program offer outreach, hands-on experiences, training and activities in labs across campus and connect students with STEM professionals. Since its launch during the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has provided these opportunities to more than 1,200 students across Lexington school systems.
Margaret Mohr-Schroeder, Ph.D., professor of STEM education and associate dean in the UK College of Education, said that local K-12 students benefit from living in a community with a major research university like UK. This helps provide opportunities for partnerships designed “to help young people see the possibilities they can pursue.”
“Rich partnerships, such as the START partnership, are important as they actively work to disrupt the systems that make some young people feel STEM careers are not for them or that they do not belong,” Mohr-Schroeder said. “This is particularly important for populations that are marginalized or traditionally underrepresented in STEM.”
Lordina Mensah, a current undergraduate student in the Lewis Honors College double majoring in engineering and STEM education, was introduced to STEM by attending the summer STEM Camps for elementary, middle and high school students led by Mohr-Schroeder, then continuing through the START program in high school. She will continue her involvement in the program as a near-peer mentor for future START students.
“I want to become an engineer and a STEM educator to introduce and support minority and underrepresented kids into STEM,” Mensah said. “I want to give back to the community that supported me on my journey.”
Students in the START program have the unique experience of being both a participant and a near-peer leader for other students.
“This program isn’t just about giving to students; it is about showing students that they are valued members of the STEM community. They have a lot to contribute — including by ‘paying it forward’ to future generations,” Bradley said. “While we see a lot of growth in students being exposed to STEM experiences, when we layer in the near-peer mentoring, that is when we see students thrive.”
The START program is housed in the UK College of Medicine Department of Neuroscience and is led by faculty and staff from the College of Medicine, College of Education and Department of Transformative Learning’s Integrated Success Coaching. It is funded by a five-year, $1.3 million Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institutes of Health.
Local organizations involved with UK START include FCPS, the Academies of Lexington, STEAM Academy, The Learning Center, the Kentucky-West Virginia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program, Higher Orbits, and Space Tango, a Lexington-based STEM company.
For more information about the UK START program, or how you can get involved, visit https://start.uky.edu.