PiPES: Outreach as Service

Department of Psychology

PiPES students

Historically, people in Appalachia have limited access to healthcare and public health education, which contribute to increased incidences of disease and shorter lifespans than the conventional population in the United States. Rural Appalachian adults are also less likely to trust people from outside their communities. As such, recruiting more research scientists from rural Appalachia is essential for reducing the critical public health disparities in the region.

PiPES: Possibilities in Postsecondary Education and Science is a project that seeks to make a positive difference in East Tennessee by providing opportunities for tenth- and eleventh-grade students in Campbell and Monroe Counties to explore careers in science, technology, engineering, math, and medical science (STEMM) and to promote college awareness.

“Most interventions to increase STEMM interest focus solely on exposure to research opportunities,” said Erin Hardin, UT professor of psychology and co-primary investigator for the grant. “Our program is unique because it integrates a focus on career exploration and college-going barriers and supports. Getting students interested in STEMM won’t work if those students believe college is not even an option.”

PiPES is a model of outreach as service and provides critical expertise and resources with potential for tremendous impact. The cornerstone of PiPES is a theoretically grounded multi-week classroom intervention that incorporates best practices in career counseling. Teams of UT graduate and undergraduate students deliver curriculum designed for high school students to explore their interests, values, and goals as they relate to the world of work. Students also learn about the post-secondary education options available. They discuss perceived barriers to education and strategies to overcome them, as well as the range of potential career opportunities in STEMM.

“The world of work has changed so much in the past few decades,” Hardin said. “It used to be possible to obtain well-paying work with benefits that allowed people to stay connected to their home communities without any kind of education or training after high school. That’s just not true anymore. Not only is some kind of education after high school increasingly important, there are so many different options, and often so many barriers, that it can be really hard to understand what’s possible.”

Hardin and her team received two new grants to extend the work to include free job coaching and career counseling services and a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to provide scholarships for low-income Appalachian students to pursue arts and sciences STEMM degrees at UT.

“STEMM-related jobs not only represent some of the biggest growth industries in our state and elsewhere, they also have tremendous potential for addressing many of the most-pressing concerns throughout the state, thus allowing people to use their education and training to remain connected and give back to their communities,” Hardin said. “The outreach as service work of PiPES is only just beginning.”