Windows of Opportunity, Miami Dade College
Windows of Opportunity is a scholarship program that assists academically promising, low-income students in obtaining the associate in arts or associate in science degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) at Miami Dade College (MDC). At least twenty-five freshman and sophomore level students participate in the program each year. Upon completion of the program, students are able to transfer to an upper division school or enter the workforce directly in their chosen field. This collaboration among eight MDC campuses brings together a diverse and experienced group of educators, business partners, and students. Program participants receive scholarships, mentoring by STEM faculty, intense academic and career planning activities, interactions with STEM professionals on and off campus, and internship experiences. The program evaluation encompasses student achievement, retention and graduation rates compared to nonprogram participants, as well as student and faculty surveys each semester, and a final student exit survey. The project is disseminated nationally by presentations of strategies, best practices, and student success rates. The program’s Web portal is also publicly accessible. Upon completion of the program, participants help fill the critical shortage of scientists and engineers in Miami-Dade County. Participants not only make a contribution to South Florida, but also serve as role models to future STEM students.
In addition, a champion at the program level providing leadership dedicated to long-term improvement is typically critical to the success of programs focused on increasing the participation of underrepresented minority students. This person should be a faculty member who has the respect, power, clout, and ear of the administration. It also helps if this person is an underrepresented minority, as this provides credibility with both the majority and minority communities, and this person may then also serve as a role model to underrepresented minority students. This person is needed to organize and energize the program and obtain buy-in from other stakeholders. A person with institutional clout will bring extra resources to the program. Indeed, programs need deeper institutional buy-in for long-term sustainability; otherwise, the loss of a program champion can lead to program decline.
The literature on best practices for increasing minority participation in STEM education provides guidance for the development and execution of the policies and programs that are designed to change the academic culture