STEM education in middle school



STEM Education In Middle School Is Key

The importance of STEM education in middle school is tough to overstate. Our nation’s top leaders and researchers have repeatedly emphasized that if America wishes to remain competitive in the global economy it must produce more professionals with college degrees in STEM. We are woefully behind China and India in the amount of STEM students we currently have, and the reason for that is partially to do with poor STEM education in middle school.

AIS has been looking to thwart this potential economic disaster by establishing the AIS PREP program, our STEM summer school for Native American middle schoolers. STEM education in middle school is especially important for the Native American population because they have the highest high school dropout rate in the nation. And the number one reason that students drop out of high school is because they lack the foundational education in their elementary and middle school years necessary to succeed in high school. By creating the AIS PREP program our goal is to create better high school graduation rates among Native Americans, and improve the amount of Native Americans pursuing STEM degrees.

America Needs STEM Graduates

Reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2005 and 2010 projected that the U.S. will have difficulty producing enough professionals with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) training in order to fill careers that will become vacant. This could have long term effects not just for our economy, but for our national security as well. If we don’t have enough Americans trained in science and engineering then we face a potential future where we won’t have the trained military personnel necessary to operate and develop current and future defense systems in which America still leads, such as cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum research, and even nanotechnology – all areas where our global competitors are pushing hard to overtake us. – Forbes

“The leading competitor is China, whose political leadership understands only too well how important STEM leadership is for global leadership. The World Economic Forum calculates that China had at least 4.7 million recent STEM grads as of 2016; India had 2.6 million as of 2017; the U.S. pulls in at third at 568,000.  That puts us about equal with India for STEM grads per population (1:516 ratio for Indians and 1:573 for Americans); but well behind China’s 1:293 ratio.  China has also mastered the science of sending their students to foreign universities to build their knowledge base in crucial STEM areas, who then head back to China to become foot soldiers in the battle for high-tech supremacy. And a key training ground for those students are America’s best colleges and universities. Last year, for example, 62 percent of all international students in US colleges and universities were in science and engineering fields. Almost seventy percent of those were from either India or China.” – Forbes

Why We Aren’t Producing Enough

Why is America having difficulty producing enough STEM graduates to fill our economic need? It comes down to three points: The baby boomer generation is far larger than the following generations so there are more vacancies opening up due to retirements than can be filled, students are losing interest in STEM subjects, and the current educational system is ill equipped to keep up with the often rapid fire developments in STEM. The good news is that evidence suggests that interventions can be done, both to improve student favorability of STEM subjects and to raise their STEM skills and aptitude.

“Using National Educational Longitudinal Study data, Tai et. al. (2006) found that middle schoolers who indicate they are interested in pursuing a career in science were three times more likely to graduate with a science degree, making career aspirations during middle school an important predictor for STEM professions. In addition, psychological research tells us that adolescence is a time when students are exploring new things and furthering their sense of identity in relation to future plans (Eccles, Barber, Stone, & Hunt, 2003).” – International Journal of Environmental & Science Education

AIS PREP Is Turning This Around In Native Communities

The AIS PREP program takes full advantage of this finding by having students attend daily career awareness lectures and weekly science fields trips during the three year summer school. By introducing students to a myriad of STEM professionals and giving them an up close look at what their jobs entail, students are introduced to a wide variety of careers that they weren’t aware of before as being available to them. As a result, many of our students who previously only had ambitions to become basketball stars, now say that they want to pursue medicine, dentistry, or engineering.

To raise students’ skills and aptitude in STEM subjects, AIS PREP holds daily classes that are hands on and immersive, with regular science activities to fully engage the students. The end result is that students dramatically raise their test scores and perform better during the school year. This is especially important for Native American students because they have the lowest test scores in STEM subjects of any group. In the 2014 Native Youth Report from the Executive Office of the President it stated that “Twenty-two percent of Native fourth graders and 17 percent of Native eighth graders scored at the ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced’ levels in math in 2011. Nationally, 40 percent of fourth graders and 35 percent of eighth graders scored in this range. This reflects a profound gap in primary and secondary academic achievement.”

According to Business Insider, the #1 reason students drop out of school is because they’re failing too many classes. As students become more comfortable in STEM subjects and gain better problem solving and reasoning skills through our curriculum, the likelihood of them failing classes and dropping out of high school goes down. This is evidenced by the success of the seminal TexPREP upon which our curriculum is based. At TexPREP 90% of their students graduate high school and continue on to college.

In today’s technology-driven world, America needs to see a sharp increase in STEM graduates. If we hope to be able to produce enough qualified STEM professionals to fill the need, providing students with both exposure and career training in STEM during the middle school years is a must.



Utah Business Magazine Feature

We were fortunate enough to be featured in the latest issue of Utah Business. The article highlights our STEM program for middle schoolers, AIS PREP, as well as the challenges that Native Americans face in pursuing a college degree. It’s wonderfully written and we’re so proud to be included in this issue. The following is a preview of the article. To read the rest please visit their website.

“The AIS PREP program is a six-week STEM education summer program for young American Indian students, with six different locations throughout the west―and they have plans to expand to another two locations by 2020. The program spans the course of three semesters, with most of the students entering the program before starting seventh grade and graduating prior to starting high school.

During the six weeks of the program, students spend school nights in dorms on campus so they get a glimpse of the true college experience before heading home on the weekends. Throughout the week, students attend classes focused on simple machines, thermal science, electrical engineering, and mechanics. There are even weekly field trips to college campuses and other professional corporations so that students can better envision a future for themselves in STEM.

And the program is 100 percent free for qualifying students. Everything, from the sheets on the bed to the toothbrushes in the bathrooms are paid for by American Indian Services from program donations, giving the students who live in these poverty-stricken areas everything they need for a truly unique educational experience.

‘The students we work with don’t have these kinds of opportunities,” says McMillan. “They live in remote places and come from some of the poorest, rural communities. So they just recognize the importance [of programs like this] and they are thrilled to have the opportunity to do something.’ ” Continue reading here…

AIS PREP – Blanding student, Kiara



American Indian Services Press Mentions

American Indian Services Press Mentions


Pay it Forward: AIS offers education support for American Indian students across the U.S.

A news segment from KUTV 2 News about the good that AIS is doing with our Scholarship Program, AIS PREP, and our COVID Relief Program.


The Organization Getting American Indians To College

An article from Utah Business Magazine about the difficulties that Native Americans face while trying to receive a college degree, and what AIS is doing to address those difficulties.


Scholarship and Tuition Assistance Charities

Charity Navigator, an independent organization that provides objective ratings of U.S. charities, has included American Indian Services in their list of organizations providing scholarship and tuition assistance.


INL Support First American Indian Services Pre-Freshman Engineering Program In Idaho

Idaho National Laboratory is a big supporter of our AIS PREP Idaho campus. This article details the success of Idaho’s first summer and the ways in which INL was involved.


An AIS PREP Success Story

A story about one of our first AIS PREP graduates who has gone on to excel in high school.


The Need For AIS PREP

An interview with a PREP site director explains why AIS PREP is important for the community.


San Juan County Boarding School Exposes Students To STEM Careers’

A KSL News video piece and article about a 5th year field trip to a flight simulator.


‘Native American students embrace challenge of new summer school’

A KSL News video piece and article about AIS PREP by John Hollenhorst.


Contact with Mary Dickson

A KUED video interview with Dr. Sylvia McMillan about the first class to graduate the full three year AIS PREP program.


About Utah: ‘They’ve been able to see something they haven’t seen before’

A Deseret News article about AIS PREP b.