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ABSTRACT: The STEM Through Authentic Research and Training (START) Program is a new program integrating academic, social, and professional experiences, in the theme of exomedicine, to build a pipeline into college for first generation and traditionally underrepresented students by providing year-round authentic opportunities and professional development for high school students and teachers. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the START Program has worked with the local Fayette County public school and community partners to provide content to over 300 students through: virtual laboratory tours with community partner Space Tango, “meet a scientist” discussions, and online near-peer student demonstrations aimed at making the practice of STEM disciplines approachable. Furthermore, the START Program has partnered with Higher Orbits to provide at-home, space-themed learning kits for students to develop teamwork, communication, and STEM principles while engaging in online content with teachers, professionals, and astronauts. Finally, the START Program has moved its training platforms online, including receiving College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA) Peer Educator accreditation for our near-peer mentoring and coaching training. As a result, the START Program is better positioned to ad- dress this critical need in STEM education, while reaching more students in the community than possible with face-to-face interactions alone.

INTRODUCTION The impact of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is felt in our daily lives, directly impacting every individual on the planet. This results in a rapidly advancing STEM industry competing for a highly skilled labor pool. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration (2017), employment in STEM occupations has grown much faster than employment in non-STEM occupations over the last decade (24.4 percent versus 4.0 percent, respectively), and STEM occupations are projected to grow by 8.9 percent from 2014 to 2024, compared to 6.4 percent growth for non-STEM occupations. Along with STEM occupations being one of the fastest growing fields in the U.S., 83% of STEM occupations offer wages above the national average (Fayer et al., 2017). However, despite the fast growth in STEM industries, first generation, low income, people of color, women, and people with disabilities are underrepresented in the workforce (Huggett, 2018). According to the National Center of Education Statistics, underrepresented individuals significantly lag in national 6-year graduation outcomes with STEM degrees at 4-year institutions (Hussar et al., 2020). Targeting students in high school and middle school has long been a foundation for the development of the STEM workforce, however gaps in the pipeline need to be addressed; the recruitment of underrepresented populations into STEM fields is often lagging (Muzzatti and Agnoli, 2007; Elam et al., 2012; Huggett, 2018).

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Journal of STEM Outreach START Article