Small - Sianko - Owens

Mark Small, Natallia Sianko and Boyd Owens (left to right) are the architects of a program that will bring STEM education to at-risk youth in South Carolina.
Image Credit: Clemson University

CLEMSON — Clemson University, in partnership with SC State University, has received a five-year, $1.28 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to bring science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programming to at-risk youth in South Carolina.

Faculty from both institutions worked together to recruit community partners in Allendale, Anderson and Jasper counties to implement the after-school STEM curriculum. Youth development specialists from both universities and participating community youth organizations will deliver the program in the counties beginning this fall.

Mark Small, chair of Clemson’s youth, family and community studies department, said the highly competitive grant will allow for after-school curriculum that will fulfill a sizable need in the state.

“South Carolina desperately needs to enhance the educational opportunities for at-risk youth, especially in STEM disciplines,” Small said. “With assistance from Clemson’s 4-H program and camp programs from the Youth Learning Institute, we hope to make a difference.”

The overarching aim of the program is to improve after-school programs serving at-risk youth in rural South Carolina through the delivery of an evidence-based STEM curriculum. Faculty and Extension staff from both institutions will provide leadership and programming for the project at the local level.

The program intervention lasts throughout the school year, whereby a youth development specialist at each site will implement the curriculum to students twice a week in one-hour sessions. Additionally, students will be able to attend a technology camp in the summer designed to further cement STEM concepts.

Small and Natallia Sianko, also a professor in Clemson’s department of youth, family and community studies, partnered with Boyd Owens, senior Extension director at the SC State University 1890 Extension Program, to find community partners for the project. Sianko is co-principal investigator of the project and sees it aligning well with both university’s strategic goals.

“This program fits with Clemson’s land-grant mission to build resilience in people and communities,” Sianko said. “Providing STEM education to at-risk youth is an effective way to address these social and economic challenges.”

The Child, Youth and Families at Risk program, funded through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture within the USDA, will provide technical assistance for the project. The specific audience to be reached is youth in grades 3-8 and their parents.

The rural locations for the program have been chosen based on high poverty levels and the substantial challenges facing the schools and surrounding neighborhoods. Faculty developed a community engagement plan and separate strategic plans for the integration of technology into the project and to ensure it is sustainable in the future.

Boyd Owens said this element of sustainability in the project will allow it to continually and dynamically improve after-school programs far into the future once goals are met. Owens, who has extensive experience with youth development initiatives, sees his institution’s work with Clemson on the project as just the beginning.

“As the two land-grant universities in the state, SC State and Clemson University have a history of public service to the residents of South Carolina to include underserved communities, and this program seeks to carry on that tradition,” Owens said. “We can build upon this collaboration to more effectively serve youth throughout our state.”

The SC State University 1890 Extension Program provides outreach programs designed to assist rural, urban and suburban residents, with a special emphasis on limited resource communities. The program helps residents improve their quality of living and achieve their goals through wise resource management.