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TL v64n4: Beyond BOSS: A Blueprint for STEM Engagement, Student Recruitment and Outreach
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Beyond BOSS: A Blueprint for STEM Engagement, Student Recruitment and Outreach

Thura Mack, Ingrid Ruffin, and Nicole Barajas



This article benchmarks the Big Orange Stem Symposium (BOSS), an educational approach that ignites passion in students to pursue STEM majors and careers by introducing them to experts, community organizations, and corporations. BOSS boasts hands-on experience, educational sessions, and networking. BOSS strengthens the effectiveness and service of the library with respect to outreach programs for high school students in general and places libraries at the forefront of student recruitment and fosters student success.


The University of Tennessee is committed to creating sustainable STEM educational programming for faculty, staff and students. STEM is the wave of the future. STEM fields produce many new jobs and create scientific breakthroughs for our society. They provide answers to medical, environmental, and health questions, and propel the United States to a more competitive level in the global market. It is the backbone of rapidly changing and advanced technology addressing critical issues such as the economic downturn, the energy crisis, and environmental crises. As a Research One institution, the University of Tennessee is positioning itself to establish key STEM research and scholarship, while developing leaders in the STEM fields. The University of Tennessee is fortunate to have access to crucial partners related to the STEM fields in the surrounding area who can help foster this vision. These partners include Texas Instruments, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, and the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), among others.

This backdrop is a golden opportunity for the University Libraries to participate in the STEM movement. While libraries are usually perceived as important research and educational partners, they are not generally seen as radical, game-changing organizations. STEM outreach and programming provides new opportunities for libraries to create an innovative brand for partnership in the University. Imagine libraries capturing the essence of the University STEM movement and bringing together all of the fields represented by STEM students and faculty, community partners, the Oak Ridge Laboratory, and corporate sponsors. In the spirit of this vision, librarians at the University of Tennessee developed and implemented the Big Orange STEM Symposium (BOSS) to create dialogue, networking opportunities, and hands-on STEM engagement and programming. Hosting an event of this caliber and allowing all of these populations to see the breadth of the Libraries'  elevated the organization to a different level of respect and academic standard.

The Big Orange Stem Symposium created a system to engage the next generation of STEM students and professionals. The first symposium was a pilot project to foster student interest in topics that they felt were a key for STEM success. The second symposium was held on March 29, 2014, at the John C. Hodges Library on the University of Tennessee, Knoxville campus. The second symposium was an even greater success because the symposium dynamics were expanded to include more middle school students, high school students, UT freshmen, parents,  and the community. The community presence was more obvious at this symposium by way of science teachers, science librarians, and staff from local museums. Having the support of the community helped organizers to sustain these important educational projects, which prepare students for college. The support of parents is crucial in the students’ decision-making process when determining what college to attend and what program of study to pursue. Parental involvement provides more of an investment in the future of a child considering attending college and--hopefully--the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

A project of this magnitude takes planning, preparation, funding, partnerships with schools and the community, and innovative branding and marketing. No matter how many times a symposium is hosted, each component of the programming needs to be carefully reviewed. The specific purpose for this outreach project was to provide an educational model and blueprint for other institutions that would like to reach this specific population. This method of outreach has proven to be impactful for students and parents, based on the feedback provided on the post-symposium questionnaire, and the scholarly literature shows that more outreach programs to STEM students will help in college recruitment and student retention. The BOSS team met its goal to maximize the learning and exploration of the STEM fields for the intended population.

Literature Review

Research for this article addressed the following subjects: academic libraries’ outreach to secondary education students, academic libraries’ involvement in STEM education, academic libraries' influence on student recruitment and retention, and career guidance provided by academic libraries to students. Literature on each of these subjects indicates that greater collaboration across departments and organizations is needed to prepare students for the demands of the tomorrow’s workforce.

College libraries are intended to serve the students attending those institutions, but they can also impact the academic trajectories of future post-secondary education students. More college libraries are providing career guidance to students through interdepartmental cooperation. Libraries are participating in and initiating successful STEM education programs that benefit students of all ages.

Academic Library High School Outreach

One of the biggest challenges and sources of anxiety for high school students is the transition to college and higher-level academic work. In the 1980s, many educators realized the positive effects that university and high school collaboration could have on this transition and called for more collaboration (Nofsinger, Kemp, & Spitzer, 1986). The Carnegie Foundation issued a special report defending the importance of collaborative projects, emphasizing the importance of placing students’ needs above the academic “pecking order” (Nofsinger, Kemp, & Spitzer, 1986, p. 64).

Librarians at the Brooklyn College Library in New York City also realized the special research needs of gifted high school students and implemented a program to meet those needs in 1995 (Evans, 1997). First, the college librarians instructed selected high school teachers and librarians about its resources. The high school teachers and school librarians then familiarized themselves with the college library’s resources and constructed assignments for their students based on these resources. The high school students learned about the college library in class before they visited the library itself. The library visit consisted of a three-hour instruction session that emphasized using printed reference tools, searching databases, understanding scholarly literature, using the OPAC, and using the Internet effectively as a research tool. The students were not surveyed about their perceptions of the program but were asked to write brief reports about it. The reports reflected students’ gains in knowledge about the college library’s resources, research skills, and the complexity of higher-level work (Evans, 1997)

In recent years, many academic librarians have sought to overcome the boundaries between schools and universities to improve first-year students’ research skills (Burhanna, 2013). Librarians at California State University, for example, implemented an outreach effort to help high school students develop skills for college success, such as searching and critically evaluating online materials (Martin, Garcia, & McPhee, 2012). Sometimes academic librarians collaborate with each other to create even better services for high schools, such as when Wake Forest and Duke universities worked together to give library instruction to high school students via topical summer programs (Collins, 2009, p. 150-151). Academic and public librarians also have a history of collaborating to “improve the academic performance of local high school students” (Angell & Tewell, 2013, p. 1).

Some university librarians have seen outreach to high school students as fundamental to their missions. At the University of Southern Colorado Library, “high school students account for a significant portion of the service responsibilities” in instruction sessions and one-on-one reference help (Kuntzman, 2000, p. 19). University librarians established a number of partnerships and initiatives to nurture and grow this connection, including integrating the university library catalog into school library catalogs, creating special collections of physical books in the library for use by high school students, customizing information literacy instruction for specific classes and students, and keeping local teachers informed about updates to the library’s resources.

Librarians at the University of Nebraska Library had a similar understanding of the university’s mission “to afford the inhabitants of this State the means of acquiring a thorough knowledge of the various branches of literature, sciences and the arts” (Pearson & McNeil, 2002, p. 24). To truly serve all Nebraska citizens, the librarians developed a high school users program in the 1980s that provided students with library tours, basic instruction in library resources, and library cards. In the 1990s, the library expanded the program even further to include students not enrolled in gifted classes and students younger than 16 years of age.

Another way in which academic and high school library collaboration can facilitate universities’ missions is through promotion (Cosgrove, 2001). Although most librarians in collaborative programs focus on sweeping goals like information literacy, the fact is that as students become more familiar with the university, learn more about the academic library, overcome anxiety, and become lifelong learners, they also become more likely to attend the university as first-year students (Cosgrove, 2001). Collaboration with local high schools can improve community relations, promote higher education, and serve as a great recruitment tool. High school students who use a university library not only get a general taste of university life, but also become acclimated to how that specific university operates. Gifted students who use academic library resources may be especially interested to learn about opportunities to test out of certain courses as a reward for their achievements. In future years, it will be helpful for admissions counselors and librarians to collaborate more frequently to investigate how librarians can use their public role to benefit the university. For librarians dealing with administrators who are reluctant to siphon away resources for high school students, this is a great defense of collaboration with high schools.

Sometimes external funding was available to assist with this collaboration. Many national and local grants were available to help fund innovative programs to support “college and career readiness initiatives” that incorporate both high schools and universities (Huisman & Orr, 2013). In another example, the Georgia Humanities Council funded a specific project called Regional Identity that created partnerships between academic, public, and school librarians in southern Georgia (Yontz, 2004). Its goal was to “unite several disparate segments of the community” by encouraging each group to study fiction by a local author (p. 292). High school students in particular received literary criticism readings and writing assignments to facilitate learning. Assessment forms with open-ended questions were distributed to all participants and facilitators for future improvement, indicating the importance of qualitative measures.

Other times university librarians provided instruction to high school students that was less wide-ranging, but still beneficial. For instance, librarians at Wake Forest University agreed to host a few instruction sessions for high school summer programs, helping the students gather and evaluate resources for a final debate project (Collins, 2009). Librarians at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign showed that simply providing access to the library’s online resources with minimal instruction had a positive effect on the scholarliness of high school students’ papers and their ability to locate and cite authoritative sources (Craver, 1988). Something as simple as a field trip to an academic library with a basic explanation of the available resources could spark students’ interest for future engagement (Tabar, 2002). If high school media specialists and academic librarians worked together on learning outcomes, even brief class visits to the university library could effectively teach students how to access scholarly resources and develop research skills (Smeraldi, 2013). Academic librarians did not need to devote half of their time to high school outreach in order to find a way to help these students.

Still other universities like Kent State University focused on using their experiences to create lists of best practices for collaboration between academic and high school librarians (Burhanna & Jensen, 2006). Examples of best practices included working with the feeder schools for the university, investigating information literacy standards in local K-12 schools, and developing a brief handout on information literacy expectations for first-year students. Other lessons learned included the negative effect of budgetary limitations on collaboration, how professional associations provide a framework for information literacy, the reduction of student anxiety with exposure to academic libraries, and the willingness of both types of librarians to collaborate (pp. 511-513).

Academic Library High School STEM Programs

In the late 1990s and early 2000s Ohio University staff members hosted the Minority Men in Engineering and Technology (MENT) and Women in Engineering and Technology (WENT) programs that “encourage high school sophomores and juniors to consider careers in engineering and the sciences” (Huge, Houdek, & Saines, 2002, p. 335). University librarians were asked to help by offering hour-long bibliographic instruction sessions to introduce students to research in the sciences and help them explore resources on a specific topic. The students would later be required to develop a 20-minute presentation on their topics. The librarians did not survey the students to assess the program, but based on observing the students’ initiative and interest in hands-on learning they concluded that it was a success and would warrant further development.

The librarians at Wayne State University were more involved in offering STEM programs and services for high schools over the long term (Bielich & Page, 2002). One university science librarian collaborated with a local high school science teacher to develop workshops familiarizing the high school science faculty with search strategies and information literacy objectives. Eventually, the program expanded to include workshops where the academic librarian gave high school students instruction in the use of the university’s electronic and print resources in the sciences. Although no formal assessment was done, students were able to integrate their research into a class project and develop a “solid foundation of information literacy skills” (p. 32).

Many other university staff members implemented STEM outreach programs, but most of these involved little to no collaboration with academic librarians. For example, an engineering outreach summer camp at Texas A&M University allowed high school students to explore career options and experience hands-on demonstrations in STEM fields (Yilmaz, Ren, Custer, & Coleman, 2010). Engineering professors focused on the camp as a recruitment effort but did not involve the academic library’s resources on information literacy and scientific research. In a lengthier demonstration of STEM outreach to high school students, the University of Nevada, Reno, developed the five-year K-12 Engineering Education Programs (KEEP) Seminar Series (Cantrell & Ewing-Taylor, 2009). From 2003-2008, staff from multiple on-campus departments and research centers delivered presentations to high school students on how to perform STEM research and plan for future careers. The program attracted 130 students a week for eight weeks each year, many of them girls, but did not expose the students to library resources or instruction on STEM.

Although there are a few academic library programs for STEM high school students, most high school students entered these majors and classes wholly unprepared to locate, evaluate, and ethically use the materials and resources available to them at the university library (Scaramozzino, 2010). Rather than trying to teach and assess information literacy for science students entirely during the first year of college, it would save college librarians a lot of time and trouble if they collaborated with their colleagues in secondary schools to build solid foundations for future learning and growth.

Librarians at the University of Tennessee Libraries have a history of reaching out to local high school students. In 1984, the librarians received a grant from the Council on Library Resources to develop a model for providing library access and instruction to gifted high school students (LeClerq, 1986). The librarians were aware that these students lacked the necessary resources to complete their research projects and the search techniques required to locate materials and use indexes. To develop its model, the librarians at Hodges Library (UTK) interviewed each high school librarian and groups of teachers and surveyed over 300 high school teachers. The results indicated that high school library collections were inadequate to meet students’ research needs and that knowledge of how to use databases among students was miserably low. The librarians proposed that a continuing partnership offering resources and instruction to local high schools would improve students’ research skills and make them better prepared for college-level work when they graduate. No further research is available about whether and to what extent this partnership was realized.

Academic Library Outreach as a Vehicle for Retention and Recruitment

Literature on the effect of academic libraries on prospective students’ college choice is not as well understood as their effect on student retention. While a study by Lombard (2012) indicates that libraries have little effect on college choice, June’s 2006 article asserts that the library is one of the second highest in rank of importance in students’ college selection. Regardless of conflicting reports on importance, academic libraries participate in campus-wide recruitment efforts and value recruitment in library strategic planning (Lombard, 2012) (Hubbard & Loos, 2013). Recruitment activities include library tours, high school outreach, in-house recruitment events, and brochures. All three articles suggest that libraries continue to support recruitment efforts and assess their recruitment activities. 

Libraries’ effect on retention is well recorded in scholarly literature with researchers recording activities undertaken by librarians (Blackburn, 2010), positing suggestions for increasing retention efforts (Oakleaf, 2011; Grallo, Chalmers, & Baker, 2012), recommending assessing retention efforts (Hubbard & Loos, 2013; Oakleaf, 2011), and methods for demonstrating libraries’ retention value to administrators (Bell, 2008). Blackburn (2010) indicated that successful library retention programs included first-year orientations, partnerships with student support services, and providing library services outside of the library.  However, Oakleaf (2011) recommended that libraries provide “high-impact educational practices” such as undergraduate research opportunities and capstone projects.  Grallo et al. (2012) suggested that libraries leverage data collected from consultations with students to inform retention efforts. Their study indicated that libraries could assist students acclimate to life on a university campus. Emmons and Wilkinson’s (2011) survey results showed that universities are better equipped to help students if they have a higher ratio of professional library staff to students. Finally, Bell's (2008) “Five-Point Plan for Success” helps library administrators demonstrate academic libraries’ retention value to university administrators. Similar to the literature on recruitment efforts, scholars on libraries and student retention agree that assessment of retention efforts is vital to convincing administration and correctly modifying programs to fit the needs of new classes of undergraduate students.

Academic Library Career Guidance for Students

Academic libraries have a history of supporting students’ advancement beyond coursework and into their careers. Efforts by librarians to support undergraduate students’ career development take place online and offline. A common theme in the scholarly literature included initial collaborations by librarians and professors from the fields of economics, business, and managerial studies (Dugan, Bergstrom, & Doan, 2009; Song, 2005). Other themes were intense collaboration on job searching seminars, and cross-reference by libraries and on-campus career support services (Dugan et al., 2009; Song, 2005; DeHart, 1996; Hollister, 2005). While job searching seminars were frequent, standout collaborations between career services and academic libraries included company research pathfinders and search strategy sheets (DeHart, 1996), development and management of career services libraries (Hollister, 2005; Dugan et al., 2009), and a Career Wiki (Dugan et al., 2009).

Program and Learning Objectives

The Big Orange STEM Symposium is a collaborative endeavor enlisting members from libraries, high schools, parent groups, student organizations, academic departments, and student services. The goal of the symposium was to promote information literacy in the STEM community, and support students as they transition from high school to a university environment. Librarians from the University of Tennessee consulted with local STEM academies and professionals to create a program that inspired students to take control of their education and careers early. We provided an environment in which potential students could visualize their academic lives through discussions with current undergraduate students, professors and professionals. By demonstrating on-campus resources that would lead them to promising careers and internships we demonstrated the university’s value in a manner that supports the university’s recruitment efforts. At the same time, we also showcased on-campus student services that provide support and aid in the effort to increase student retention.

Seven objectives shaped and informed the development of the symposium:
1.    Create a program to collaborate with STEM professionals and students.
2.    Provide resources to prepare students for the transition into to college.
3.    Provide STEM career information from the University STEM Career Director.
4.    Present a holistic introduction to the STEM fields.
5.    Demonstrate a better understanding of the Libraries’ roles in student success.
6.    Provide an outlet to strategically recruit STEM students to the University of Tennessee.
7.    Provide a menu of academic support options to enrich the pre-college experience.


The researchers collected data from BOSS student participants in two ways. Researchers distributed a survey to all eligible symposium student participants. The survey consisted of five quantitative and qualitative questions. Secondly, researchers collected data from stamp cards utilized during the STEM Fair and Browse Session. The researchers provide copies of the survey questions and the STEM Fair and Browse Session Stamp Card in the Appendix of this article. Data and analysis from the survey and STEM Fair and Browse Session Stamp Cards are provided in the following section.

The survey was distributed to all eligible student participants upon collection of consent during sign-in and registration. Students at least 18 years of age were able to provide consent, while students under 18 required an additional signature from a parent or guardian. The survey did not collect any demographic or personal information. Participants remained anonymous and the survey did not connect with respondents’ names in any way. While the survey was distributed upon the participants’ arrival at BOSS, the participants were instructed to complete and return the survey at the conclusion of the program.

The primary goal of the survey was to gauge students’ interest in STEM career fields and majors. Data collected from the survey was used to assess learning outcomes for students as they relate to STEM majors, careers, and life decisions. Student-centered survey questions asked about students’ changing interests in STEM fields, potential interest in STEM majors and research areas, and interest in working with STEM-related organizations.

The secondary goal of the survey was to gather feedback from students about the effectiveness of the symposium and suggestions for next year’s symposium. One question asked students to rank, on a scale from 1 to 5, the level to which the symposium met attendees’ expectations. A ranking of 1 indicated that the symposium did not meet their expectations at all. Participants who selected 5 indicated that the symposium met all of their expectations.

Data collected from the STEM Fair and Browse Session cards were used to assess students’ interest in STEM organizations and determine partners for next year. During the STEM Fair and Browse Session students collected stamps from each exhibitor they visited. Exhibitors placed the stamps next to their organization’s name on the STEM Fair and Browse Session Stamp Card. The total number of stamps for each exhibitor were calculated and observations were made about possible connections created between students and exhibitors.


A total of 29 surveys were completed and returned. The survey was an integral part to the STEM Symposium. The BOSS Team wanted to assess the learning experiences of the participants who took part in this opportunity to engage in college preparedness. The surveys provided the students’ perspective on the type of information they needed to move forward in making decisions about STEM majors and needed resources. One of the major findings was that they wanted more information on admission requirements. In this section we will discuss the feedback received for each question.

Q1: Are you now interested in STEM fields that you were not before? If so, explain which fields and why.

This symposium provided new information about STEM fields to the majority of the students who completed the survey. This feedback provided evidence that the students became interested in other STEM fields after attending the BOSS program sessions. Compiling the data into the chart in Figure 1 shows that 72% of respondents selected ‘Yes,’ 21% responded ‘No,’ and 7% did not select an answer (see Fig. 1). Having 72% of the students become interested in other science fields showed engagement and new opportunities for students to plan for as they prepare for college. As illustrated in Figure 2, these six fields were the top choices of the student’s feedback for new fields of interest: Engineering, Agriculture, Wildlife, Fisheries, Forestry and Biomedical. The student’s decisions for their new interest reflected both academic and personal enjoyment. The word cloud in Figure 2 provides a helpful visualization for comparing levels of interest in different subject areas. Responses with higher frequencies appear larger than those with lower frequencies.

 figure 1
Figure 1. A large majority of students became interested in new STEM fields as a result of attending the symposium.

  figure 2
Figure 2. Word cloud depicting respondents' areas of interest in STEM. Larger fonts indicate higher frequency of response. 

Q2: After having attended the symposium, do you have a better understanding of some local agencies or departments you might like to work for?  Please identify which interests you.

Twenty-one of the students surveyed said yes, four answered no, and four did not respond (see Figure 3).

figure 3
Figure 3. Most of the students who responded to the survey increased their understanding of potential STEM employers.

Of the 16 agencies and departments that participated, students identified the top six agencies that they would be interested in working for: Oak Ridge National Lab (15 responses), Student Success Center (9 responses), Texas Instruments (9 responses), BioSystems Engineering and Soil Science (8 responses), Great Smoky Mountains National Park (7 responses), and Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries (7 responses) (see Figure 4). Providing the students an opportunity to interact with all 16 exhibitors created excitement and interest for the students and their parents in available career and educational options. This segment of the program was key in empowering the students to think long-term about their future. An additional outcome is that high school students are aware of the role of research in continuing education even as they enter the profession.

figure 4
Figure 4. The graph shows student interest in local agencies. Acronyms for the following exhibitors were used in place of long-form names: Biosystems Engineering and Soil Sciences (BESS), Center for Leadership and Service (CLS), Center for Renewable Carbon (CRC), Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries (FWF), Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), and Student Success Center (SSC).

Q3: After having attended the symposium, do you have a better idea of some research you might do?  If Yes, please specify what type of research interests you.

Eighteen students responded yes to this question, seven said no, and four did not respond (see Figure 5).
Figure 5. Do you have a better idea of some research you might do? The majority, 18 out of 29, said "Yes."

The students listed 16 areas of research interest including chemical research, computers and computing, engineering, biomedical, and environmental. There was one social science field listed as a research area: Anthropology (see Figures 6-9).

figure 6
Figure 6. Research interests by broad subject area. Engineering received 14 responses, Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources received 2 responses, and Arts and Sciences got 12.

  figure 7
Figure 7. Interest in engineering research areas was widely distributed among sub-disciplines.

Figure 8. Interest in agricultural research areas.


  figure 9

Figure 9. Interest in Arts and Sciences Research Areas, including biological sciences, chemisty, physics, astronomy, and anthropology.

Q4: Did the symposium meet your expectations?  Choose a number between 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “did not meet expectations” and 5 meaning “exceeded expectations” regarding your experience with the Big Orange STEM Symposium.

Overall, the participants rated the symposium as a success with various useful comments on how to make it better. Approximately 80% of the respondents indicated that the symposium met their expectations (see Figure 10). Successfully meeting the majority of the students expectations included providing a learning space where students could ask questions and independently explore their interest areas.

figure 10
Figure 10. Twenty-four out of 29 respondents indicated high satisfaction with the symposium--scoring it 4 or 5 out of 5.

Q5: Please share any suggestions you might have to improve the symposium.

  • Not as long classes so we will get to go to all classes.
  • More involved activities, more upbeat to keep you interested. Not so boring.
  • I would like greater variety of Engineering booths and panels.
  • Bring in David Mouron from McCallie School as the keynote speaker next time. He is an alumni and very good and accomplished person.
  • Not same day as Junior Open House.
  • Provide time between speakers to allow for extended questions.

Some of the positive feedback included statements such as:

  • Student and Professor “what to expect” was very helpful. Could use breakout sessions for adults, i.e. how to encourage STEM in students. 
  • Perhaps a video commercial could be made available to the schools.
  • Great job!
  • I really liked the program. It was very interesting to make connections with people here and learn more about STEM careers. I will definitely tell our Science Club leader at Jefferson County how good it was so more people can come next year.
  • It was fun and exposing to different careers.

Some of the feedback that offered areas for growth or change included :

  • I think that it would be interesting to have something related to Medical Science.
  • Make it more lively. It was informative, but get activities and group work so we can interact with one another. 
  • Have someone from the Admissions Office.
  • Everything was pretty good. I would suggest for bigger rooms so people don’t have to stand.
  • I would like to see more robotics related things.

figure 11
Figure 11. Chart noting suggestions to increase and decrease symposium elements.

Survey Data Summary

The BOSS organizers were pleased with the level of survey participation. While the survey yielded responses from less than half of the attendees, the feedback provided valuable information on the STEM school population.  It allowed the researchers to really look at the needs and expectations of future STEM scholars. Of the numerous populations represented at the symposium, the survey provided an overwhelming confirmation that libraries can make a difference in students’ success in the STEM field. Libraries have a role in shaping future STEM professionals. While this symposium prepared mainly for STEM literacy, organizers also saw interest by students outside of STEM who want general strategies for college success. It is critical for libraries to strategically partner with STEM agencies, departments, and community entities. The symposium provided students with global options to help them make informed educational choices. The feedback agreed with the authors’ vision that offering STEM as a comprehensive branch, rather than focusing on one area such as math, was the best way to introduce students to the field.

Feedback from STEM Fair and Browse Session

The following discussion encapsulates findings from data collected using the STEM Fair and Browse Session Stamp Cards. Researchers used data from the cards to assess students’ interest in STEM organizations and determine partners for next year.  The total number of student visits at each exhibitor table was calculated based on the number of stamps exhibitors received on the student stamp cards. The number of student visits at each table can be observed in figure 12. The researchers contextualized the data collected from the stamp cards in light of student’s interest in STEM careers and majors.

First, not all attendees participated in stamp card data collection. The total number of stamp cards collected was 39, while attendance at BOSS was over 60 students. Each booth was able to secure at least 15 visits by students, meaning 40%of the students participating in stamp card collection visited each table. Only two booths had 40% attendance and those included VolsTeach and TRECS. None of the exhibitors' booths captured the interest of all 39 students. None of the booths were attended by more than 35 students or reached more than 80% of the students who returned stamp cards.

The Texas Instruments table had the most student visits at 79%. The popularity of TI's table may be the result of a higher level of interest in the engineering field and because of their popular breakout session held before the STEM Fair. OIT was the second most popular exhibitor at BOSS, indicating strong interest by students in computer science and engineering. Student Research Posters received good attendance with over 60% of students visiting this station, indicating strong interest in scientific research and publishing by the attendees.

Stamp card data here reveals that students at BOSS hold diverse interests in the STEM fields and expressed that diversity through their interactions with exhibitors. Contextualized with the rest of the data collected at the symposium, data collected from the stamp card proves that the STEM Fair and Browse Session was valuable to the students, parents, teachers, and exhibitors attending BOSS. The STEM Fair and Browse Session was the penultimate session of the event followed by a brief closing session. Over half of the student attendees chose to stay and participate, thus illustrating the value of this portion of the programming to the BOSS experience. Not only that, but students take away skills for interacting with campus and community groups. This level of interaction in the university context with the support of family and friends gives them the confidence to ask questions, explore, and discover resources for student success.

  figure 12
Figure 12. Line graph of student visits at exhibitors' tables. Note: Acronyms for the following exhibitors were used in place of long-form names: Biosystems Engineering and Soil Sciences (BESS), Center for Leadership and Service (CLS), Center for Renewable Carbon (CRC), College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CASNR), Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries (FWF), Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), Office of Information Technology (OIT), Student Research Posters (SRP), Student Success Center (SSC), and Tennessee Recreational Center for Students (TRECS).


The experiences and processes used in the Big Orange STEM Symposium may be modified to fit multiple library settings. Collaboration and partnerships were vital elements that made a difference in the success of the program, driving increased attendance. In the future, BOSS will use a mix of analysis of the collected data and collegial input from professors and exhibitors. BOSS coordinators will continue to expand diversity as an element of next year’s symposium as it coordinates with the university and Libraries' strategic vision. An ongoing goal is going to increase the number of symposium attendees because it will allow our program to more effectively help students transition from high school to college. 

Looking beyond BOSS, the following additional lessons learned may be applied to any library outreach program to high school students:

  • Select an appropriate and exciting keynote speaker.
  • Prepare for growth of the symposium and build the symposium for growth.
  • Be flexible and open to new opportunities, partners and audiences while staying true to the intentions and purpose of your program.
  • Maintain your resolve through hardships and mounting pressures while building or revitalizing library outreach programs. These are opportunities to rely on and seek out allies that support your efforts.
  • Keep the program to a manageable, inviting size so that the students can feel comfortable while navigating the symposium.
  • Keep key areas of the program together, allowing for cohesion and connectivity.
  • Open attendance to as broad an audience as possible.
  • Create a user friendly website that increases visibility of registration and program information and serves as a key vehicle for communicating information with exhibitors, speakers, parents and students.
  • Extend an invitation to a variety of partners such as public libraries, parent-teacher associations, and home-school groups when recruiting attendees.
  • Select giveaways or prizes to emphasize your programs theme.
  • Foster interaction with current university first year students.


STEM Fair and Browse Session


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Blackburn, H. (2010). "Shhh! No talking about retention in the library!" Education Libraries, 33(1), 24-30. Retrieved from

Burhanna, K. J. (Ed.). (2013). Informed transitions: Libraries supporting the high school to college transition. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Burhanna, K. J., & Jensen, M. L. (2006). Collaborations for success: High school to college transitions. Reference Services Review, 34(4), 509-519.

Cantrell, P., & Ewing-Taylor, J. (2009). Exploring STEM career options through collaborative high school seminars. Journal of Engineering Education, 98(3), 295-303.

Collins, B. L. (2009). Integrating information literacy skills into academic summer programs for precollege students. Reference Services Review, 37(2), 143-154.

Cosgrove, J. A. (2001). Promoting higher education: (Yet) another goal of bibliographic instruction of high school students by college librarians. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 8(2), 17-24.

Courtney, N. (2009). Academic library outreach: Beyond the campus walls. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

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Thura Mack is Professor and Coordinator for Community Learning Services & Diversity Programs at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville Libraries. She can be reached at 

Ingrid Ruffin is the Student Success Librarian for First Year Programs at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She can be reached at

Nicole Barajas recently graduated with her M.S.I.S. from the University of Tennessee and currently works for the Knox County Public Library.





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