The First2 Network Alliance mission is to increase the number of first-generation college students who graduate with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields in West Virginia and beyond.
First2 is Supported by the National Science Foundation INCLUDES initiative.
High Rocks is a core partner in the First2 Network. Because of the work High Rocks does and the student populations we work with, we know a lot about the challenges facing first-generation college students. We also know a lot about the strengths those young people bring to the table, and how to maximize those strengths through leadership development. We’ve supported many of our alumni through the difficult college journey and have encouraged many young women to pursue science and math. High Rocks is excited to work with others across the state on these issues. We’re also excited to promote student agency, leadership, and power in building a stronger West Virginia.
West Virginia and the nation have STEM jobs that need a strong workforce to fill them, and that need will only grow in the coming years. We have talented young people who are interested in these careers, many of whom are the first in their family to go to college.
We believe that the first two years of college are a critical moment for success in STEM. Far too many of our first-gen students who are interested in STEM do not successfully continue in their fields of study.
We are bringing together K12, higher education, public allies, industry, small business, government, non-profits, students, and other community partners to form a new network that can work together to address the challenges facing first-generation college students in STEM in WV.
First2 both supports first-generation students to do well and promotes the development of institutional advancement and policy change to better serve these students. Students are key leaders in our project, and they are always at the leadership table, working beside college presidents, legislators, and community leaders.
At First2, we believe deeply in:
- immersive research experiences early on for students,
- developing student leadership and partnering with students to solve these endemic problems, and
- an innovative thinking approach to collective impact for big picture, lasting change.
Collective Impact is the notion that working together, we can create a wave of innovation, develop strategy, and create large and lasting change. We use the Network Improvement Community toolkit to do this work, thinking together about change ideas, testing those ideas, collecting data about how it works, and then adopting, adapting or abandoning our ideas we learn together.
One of the 10 BIg Ideas for the National Science Foundation is to include more underrepresented people in STEM education pathways and careers, in order to drive innovation across STEM fields in the United States. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is providing 5 years of grant funding to support the launch of the First2 network across the state of West Virginia and to 2 other similar states. First2 is one of five Alliances funded across the country as part of the NSF INCLUDES initiative.
The goal of NSF INCLUDES national initiative is to move the needle on STEM participation by underrepresented people across the country, including people of color, women, Latinos, Native Americans, African-Americans, other people of color, low-income people, first-generation college students, and others. Read about the grant announcements here.
The First2 Network Alliance is funded for approximately $7 million dollars over five years through 5 collaborative organizations: High Rocks, Green Bank Observatory, Fairmont State University, West Virginia University, and the Higher Education Policy Council. The Alliance includes innovative thought leaders from Pocahontas County Schools, SRI, ICF International, HSTA, and many more.
High Rocks’ role in the project is to coordinate student leadership, resourcing students with stipends, travel and supplies to be at the table for the change work; to develop both leadership and change ideas; as well as to be researchers immersed in their respective fields as early as freshmen year. We aim to engage over 300 students with stipends to support their work and ideas over the grant period, and engage hundreds more in network activities.
At the end of the grant period, our goal is that First2 has become a self-sustaining public-private partnership with state funds, federal opportunities, and business partners to continue this critical work, providing a model for other states across the country.