Vision and Roots

Mission Statement

DREAM – Achievement through Mentorship strives to increase the number of underrepresented minority students earning undergraduate degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields through team-based, high school mentoring. Rice University students studying STEM and related fields serve as mentors for small teams of high school students.

DREAM Students:

  • Learn what engineers do and understand the roles of mathematics, science and technology in engineering, through participation in exciting, team-based design projects and university visits where they present their designs

  • Understand long-term earning potential in STEM fields, as an alternative to entering the workforce directly out of high school

  • Prepare for the rigors of university education in STEM curricula because they understand the importance of enrolling in upper-level math and science electives

  • Are encouraged to prepare for college entrance exams

  • Are guided through college and financial aid applications

DREAM Mentors:

  • Improve leadership and communication skills through experiential learning

  • Find value in using their knowledge to solve the real-world problem of diversifying the STEM pipeline

DREAM impacts K-12 outreach locally and nationally by:

  • Nurturing relationships between Rice University and the Houston community

  • Developing assessment measures to evaluate the effectiveness of mentoring

  • Disseminating research instruments and program findings through journal publications and presentations

History of DREAM

Origins and Initial Successes

DREAM grew out of a tutoring collaboration between Rice’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and Stephen F. Austin High School (AHS). Recognizing a need for supplemental instruction and mentoring, Dr. Houchens, a SHPE advisor and Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Rice undergraduates Maria Martinez, Daniela Rimer and Tony Castilleja created first a broad tutoring program, then the refocused DREAM program. The goals of these efforts were to encourage students to pursue their interests in science, engineering, mathematics and analytical problem solving. The tutoring program started in 2006. At that time, Rice students tutored primarily freshmen and sophomores. In its first year of existence (2006–2007), the program was predominantly focused on aiding students with homework and science fair projects. From the fall of 2006 to the spring of 2007, Rice mentors volunteered over 100 hours at AHS. In the science fair, two supported students placed first in their respective categories (engineering and environmental science) at AHS, and one of those placed first in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) East Regional. During this same period, Dr. Houchens began mentoring an AHS junior, providing specific advice related to college planning. By chance, the student happened to be interested in studying mechanical engineering. A quick review of his schedule showed that he was not planning to take calculus in his senior year because it was not required to graduate. This would have significantly hurt his chance for acceptance into an engineering degree program, and put him behind his peers in preparation. Fortunately this oversight was avoided, and in 2008 the student accepted admission to a top tier university, pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering. Dr. Houchens still advises the student by email with suggestions on coarse loads and professional societies to join. This important case highlighted the supremacy of mentoring over tutoring, and during the summer of 2007 the DREAM program was created.

Development of the DREAM Program (2007–2008 Academic Year)

To encourage consistent participation and shift the emphasis to mentoring, the DREAM program was formed. The small team setting (2-3 mentees per mentor) with a goal of solving a design challenge allows the mentoring relationship to form organically. Mentees grow to trust their mentor as they see the week-in, week-out commitment of every mentor, each volunteering their time freely. As this relationship forms, the mentees seek advice on larger issues such as: why did the mentor decide to go to college, how does the mentor pay for college, what needs to be accomplished to prepare for college, etc. This allows the mentor to introduce the mentees to new perspectives and possibilities for the future. Few AHS students go to college in STEM fields, and many choose to work directly after graduation. Showing these students the long-term economic advantage of earning a STEM degree allows for a shift in perception. All of the mentees are underrepresented minorities, and most come from households without experience in college education. This is typical of AHS, which has a student demographic of 96% Hispanic and 2% African American, with over 80% receiving reduced-price or free lunches[1]. In the 2007–2008 academic year, DREAM served approximately 25 students on a consistent basis, with 13 primary mentors. Overall, more than 40 AHS students were reached on multiple occasions, by over 20 mentors. Mentors freely volunteer their time at AHS.

Measurable Outcomes

Furthermore, DREAM seeks to provide students with extracurricular instruction and activities with an emphasis on experiential learning and design oriented projects, as a mechanism for introducing engineering. The DREAM program is a model that Rice would like to implement throughout Houston. Students participating in the DREAM program have shown success both inside and outside of the classroom. For example, DREAM mentees have continued to place highly in district and regional science fairs. Also, in spring 2008, DREAM incorporated two additional measures of student understanding. These include an Intuition Inventory and a Physics Concepts Inventory. The former provides a qualitative test of understanding, and the later a quantitative test which incorporates mathematical representations of physical situations. For example, in the “Don’t Break the Egg” egg-drop competition, the Intuition Inventory focused on the invariance of the acceleration of gravity for objects of different densities. Prior to the competition, less than 50% of the students exhibited correct intuition when asked to compare the time for two balls of the same size, but different densities to fall the same distance. After the competition, 83% of the students answered correctly that the balls fall in the same amount of time. Affiliated programs include science demonstrations [2,3], math team tutoring, College Prep Saturdays, and the Rice Austin College Expo, of which the latter two are SHPE initiatives focused on encouraging AHS students to study engineering. Along with academic assistance, these programs offer additional advice on financial aid and college applications, and are strengthened by the consistent presence that DREAM provides. The initial successes are currently being documented [4,5]. The long-term success of DREAM will be measured by the percentage of mentees who apply to universities in STEM fields, gain acceptance, and complete their degrees, along with the metrics listed above such as Intuition Inventories.

Basics of the DREAM and Affiliated Outreach Programs

The DREAM program and affiliated outreach at Stephen F. Austin High School consists of:

    • 6 to 8 weeks of mentoring sessions for Stephen F. Austin High School students each semester, with a focus on solving a design challenge

    • DREAM Day, a day-long visit to Rice University where mentees compete and participate in activities including:

        • student panels

        • professor talks

        • financial aid information provided by Rice staff

        • tours of engineering labs and facilities

        • hands-on design competitions

Footnotes1. Beach, K. E., Boyle, P. M., Corcoran, C. C., Hamshari, A. N., Tuttle, J. J., McStravick, D. M. & Houchens, B. C. Integrating Research, Undergraduate Education and Engineering Outreach. Int. J. Service Learning Engineering 2, No. 2, 89-101, 2007.3. Boyle, P. M. & Houchens, B. C. 2008 Adaptive WaTER Laboratory for K-12 outreach on sustainable water use. ASEE Paper AC 2008-449, Proceedings of the 2008 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburg, PA.4. Houchens, B. C. Service and Design as Mechanisms to Impassion the Study of Engineering, from K-12 to Higher Education. under review for the Int. J. Service Learning Eng.5. Campo, L. M., Rice, S. A., Rimer, D. & Houchens, B. C. Mentoring to Impassion the Study of Engineering in Underrepresented High School Students via a Design Mechanism (abstract accepted for the 2009 ASEE Annual Conference)