Ruthe Farmer’s important big idea: The Last Mile Education Fund to increase diversity in STEM

May 26, 2022 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

I met Ruthe Farmer (Wikipedia page) when she represented the Girl Scouts in the early days of the NSF Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) alliances. She played a significant role in NCWIT. I had many opportunities to interact with her in her roles at NCWIT and CSforAll. Ruthe organized the White House summit with ECEP in 2016 (see blog post) when she was with the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Obama administration. Her latest project may be the one that’s closest to my heart.

Ruthe has founded and is CEO of the Last Mile Education Fund. Their mission is:

The Last Mile Education Fund offers a disruptive approach to increasing diversity in tech and engineering fields by addressing critical gaps in financial support for low-income underrepresented students within four semesters of graduation.

I was still at Georgia Tech when I heard about the completion microgrant program at Georgia State. Georgia State was (and still is) making headlines for their use of big data to boost retention and get students graduated. Georgia State is the kind of institution where over half of their students are classified as low-income. There is a huge social benefit when GSU can improve their retention statistics. The completion grant program was started in 2011 and focuses on students who could graduate (e.g., their grades were fine), but they had run out of money before they finished. The grant program gave no more than $2,500 per student (Inside Higher Education article). Today, we know that the average grant has actually been $900. That’s a shockingly low cost for getting students the rest of the way to their college degree. It’s a great idea, and deserves to be applied more broadly than one university.

The Last Mile Education Fund especially focuses on getting students from diverse backgrounds into STEM careers. These last gaps in funding are among the barriers that keep girls out from STEM careers (where Ruthe’s focus was in the Girl Scouts and NCWIT) but also low-income students and people of color.

I was reminded to write about the Last Mile Education Fund by Alfred Thompson’s blog (see post here). He’s got a lot more information about the Last Mile Education Fund there.

I am a first generation graduate. My parents and I had no idea how to even apply to college. I am forever grateful that Wayne State University found me in my high school, guided me to applying, and gave me a scholarship to attend. I’m a privileged white guy. Not everybody gets the opportunities I had. It’s critical to extend the opportunity of a higher education degree to a broader and more diverse audience.

The Last Mile Education Fund is important for closing the gap for students from diverse backgrounds. I’m a monthly supporter, and I encourage you to consider giving, too.

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