Inspired by numbers
March 21, 2023

3M support has helped to grow a path-breaking program for students who are historically underrepresented in STEM fields to nurture their interest and expand their opportunities.

On Minneapolis' North Side, a network of University of Minnesota undergraduates, high schoolers, and middle school students take part in tutoring and other support services dedicated to students of color who have been historically underrepresented in STEM fields. Prepare2Nspire (P2N) is a unique program coordinated by the College of Education and Human Development that supports urban youth and their mathematics learning experience.

P2N is designed to create an informal (non-classroom) space where students study, build their confidence, and participate in mathematics. The program serves middle and high school students with weekly mathematics tutoring and mentoring through a tiered system. Undergraduate students studying in mathematics, engineering, education, and other STEM fields are trained as mathematics mentors (tutors) for high school algebra 2 students. The high school students, in turn, tutor and mentor 8th grade algebra 1 students. Participants at each level become deeply involved as both learners and mentors in a community of peers centered around mathematics in secondary and post-secondary opportunities.

3M and the U of M: a joint commitment

P2N serves 35-40 students a year, and reached maximum capacity for 2022-23. 3Mgives philanthropy has supported its growth over the past five years as part of its focus on education, with a special interest in building more diverse future leaders in STEM.

Jackie Berry, 3Mgives global communications manager, says, “As a science-based company, we want to build equal representation in the next generation of thinkers, and ensure that students of color who want to access and participate in STEM have an opportunity to do so. 3M’s partnership with P2N helps build the pipeline of underrepresented students engaging in mathematics.”

“We are building persistence and success in a field where next-level jobs are available,” says associate professor Lesa Covington Clarkson, who started P2N in 2013 and volunteers her time as director. “The generosity of 3M makes it possible for us to serve more students, build their confidence, and strengthen their mathematics skills and achievement.”

Meeting an immediate need

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress report released in October 2022, U.S. students in most states and across almost all demographic groups have experienced troubling setbacks in math. Just 26 percent of eighth graders were considered proficient, impeding their path for future success. Programs like Prepare2Nspire have shown progress for academic recovery.

P2N has improved academic outcomes for hundreds of students and inspired tutors to enter STEM-related U of M programs. Students gain confidence and skill through their participation, such as for this high schooler: “Pre-calculus was very hard for me because I couldn't get the hang of it. But with the help of my mentor, I gained confidence through practice and support.” Some successful P2N students who are now attending the U of M are returning to become the next group of mentors for the program.

To support the tutees' interest in mathematics and promote the value and engagement of the subject in the community and at home, P2N also organizes semiannual events that include parents/guardians, elders, siblings, and teachers to extend the mathematics conversations in homes. They also host monthly visits and discussions with STEM (and other) practitioners in the field to talk about how they prepared for their occupation, especially focusing on their math history.

‘I learned new ways to approach math problems’

Hard data show the positive impact of the program. Eleventh grade participants' performance on the Princeton Review's ACT mathematics test increased an average of three points, on a 36 point assessment score, making them more competitive on college applications. As one eighth grader said, “I was more impatient when it came to doing math and I would get frustrated when I couldn't find the answer to a question. After P2N, I think I learned new ways to approach math problems and I'm a lot more patient.”