Using Evidence-Based Practices to Help Students Succeed Against the Odds

Posted August 14, 2018, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Students preparing for careers in health and technology fields.

In West Vir­ginia, a men­tor­ing pro­gram sup­port­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion is lever­ag­ing evi­dence-based prac­tices to help high school stu­dents from under­served com­mu­ni­ties earn an advanced degree in a STEM-based field.

The pro­gram — called the Health Sci­ence & Tech­nol­o­gy Acad­e­my (HSTA) — has served approx­i­mate­ly 2,500 West Vir­gini­ans. Most of these par­tic­i­pants have been first-gen­er­a­tion col­lege stu­dents. One-third are African-Amer­i­can stu­dents and rough­ly half have come from finan­cial­ly dis­ad­van­taged households.

HSTA is com­mit­ted to col­lect­ing and ana­lyz­ing evi­dence to mea­sure its effec­tive­ness and help young peo­ple in West Vir­ginia and beyond. The pro­gram oper­ates under the premise that some of its par­tic­i­pants will grad­u­ate and then return home to put their much-need­ed exper­tise in health care or STEM edu­ca­tion to good use. It’s not a far-fetched bet: Near­ly 90% of HSTA stu­dents earn at least a four-year degree and 84% stay in West Vir­ginia to work.

The HSTA mod­el has been so effec­tive at sup­port­ing stu­dent suc­cess that experts recent­ly explored expand­ing its scope of influ­ence. At West Vir­ginia Uni­ver­si­ty, 25 HSTA col­lege stu­dents admin­is­tered a Face­book-dri­ven cur­ricu­lum on healthy liv­ing to HSTA high-school stu­dents. In this role, the col­lege stu­dents act­ed as near-peer men­tors — and inspired their younger coun­ter­parts to eat health­i­er, lose weight and exer­cise, accord­ing to Social Media Based STEM Enrich­ment Cur­ricu­lum Pos­i­tive­ly Impacts Rur­al Ado­les­cent Health Mea­sures, a report recent­ly pub­lished in the Jour­nal of STEM Outreach.

With the Casey Foundation’s sup­port, HSTA has col­lab­o­rat­ed with the West Vir­ginia Uni­ver­si­ty School of Pub­lic Health to col­lect qual­i­ta­tive data from the program’s gov­ern­ing board as well as lon­gi­tu­di­nal data from three groups — cur­rent pro­gram par­tic­i­pants, a com­par­i­son group of non-par­tic­i­pat­ing peers, and pro­gram alum­ni. HSTA intends to use this infor­ma­tion to enhance its strengths and refine its pur­suit of long-term goals.

Casey has also sup­port­ed efforts to expand HSTA beyond West Vir­ginia, accord­ing to Ilene Berman, a senior asso­ciate with the Foundation’s Evi­dence-Based Prac­tice Group. This work involves gath­er­ing evi­dence and ana­lyz­ing mate­ri­als and strate­gies to bet­ter under­stand the program’s key com­po­nents. With this infor­ma­tion on record, HSTA hopes to serve as a mod­el for oth­ers who are inter­est­ed in empow­er­ing young peo­ple from under­rep­re­sent­ed groups to suc­ceed in post­sec­ondary edu­ca­tion,” says Berman.

Check out the Foun­da­tion’s video series on help­ing orga­ni­za­tions build evi­dence in five steps

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