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Nearly 4,000 students entered science research competitions, thanks to Advocate Program

By Gayle Kansagor

Elizabeth Proctor with her students

Students across the country often complete science research projects for school, a club or even to satisfy a question they have about the world around them, but many don’t take the next step to enter their research into competitions.

Enter the Society’s Advocate Program.

Working with the Society, Advocates, who are educators, counselors and mentors, provide students with the support they need to take the next step — and it’s working. Over the seven years the program has existed, nearly 4,000 students have entered science research competitions.

A year-long professional development program, the Advocate Program was created to support educators who are working to increase the number of students from traditionally underrepresented races or ethnicities and low-income households who enter STEM research competitions. The represented competitions ranged from school, regional and state science fairs, as well as larger competitions run by the Society, including the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) and the Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS) but, are not limited to competitions organized by the Society. 

The program launched in 2015 with just nine Advocates working with 87 students. By 2021 the number of Advocates had grown to 65 and the number of students participating had increased to 918. Of those 918 young people, 696 students competed in STEM research competitions.

According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), while Latinx workers make up 18% of the US workforce, they represent only 14% of STEM workers. Black workers make up 12% of the US working population, but only represent 9% of STEM workers.  By prioritizing and engaging these populations, the Advocate Program seeks to increase the representation in STEM competitions and later in their careers in underserved populations. During 2021-2022, 23% of the students who participated were Black or African American, 8% were American Indian or Native Alaskan, 8% Asian or Asian American, 50% Latinx or Hispanic and 27% white.  

Additionally, at a time when we are still seeing low numbers of women in STEM careers it is exciting to see that the Advocate Program has been supportive of young women. (According to the NSF women constituted just 34% of the STEM workforce in 2021.) Each year, the Advocate Program has had more girls than boys as participants. During the 2020-2021 school year, for example, 44% of the participants were young men, compared to 54% young women.

The program also seeks to reach students across the country in a variety of school types and environments in order to further promote a diverse workforce. In the 2021-2022 school year, 31 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico were all represented. Sixty-seven percent of the schools were part of Title 1, a federal program that provides financial assistance to local school systems and schools with high percentages of children from low-income households to support.

The majority of Advocates work in schools (83%), although 17% are from non-profit organizations and universities. The Advocates in schools educate both public and private students, with 36 Advocates based in urban areas, 18 in the suburbs and 12 based in rural areas.

Head here to learn more about the Advocate Program, and if you are interested in applying, fill out this form to be alerted when the next program cycle launches. Stay tuned as we will announce this year’s class of Advocates on Wednesday, 8/17.

Aparna Paul