February 2, 2023

For Robert Cobb Jr., Associate Professor at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical (N.C. A&T) State University, AEOP’s Unite program is all about revealing STEM career possibilities and pathways to his students. 

Robert first became involved with Unite in 2018 at Virginia Tech (VT), where, after learning about the program from the VT Upward Bound director, he led a summer architecture course. Now, Robert is the Unite Site Director at NC A&T State University.

When high school students arrive at Robert’s Unite program, they are exposed to a number of hands-on STEM activities as well as career pathways. He built a program that helps students apply the theoretical and conceptual knowledge they have learned in their math and science classes through technology. Also, throughout the summer, Robert brings in Department of Defense professionals to meet with his students and share stories about the experiences that led them to pursue STEM. Students can ask these experts about different paths to STEM success.

“The opportunity to connect firsthand with scientists and engineers helps break down barriers for students and build their confidence about what is possible,” explains Robert. “Meeting a STEM professional that looks like them and being able to ask questions directly opens students’ minds to see themselves in a lab or conducting research themselves one day.” 

The eye-opening experience for students about what is achievable in STEM is one of Robert’s favorite parts about Unite. 

“When students leave Unite, they are empowered to envision themselves as future computer programmers, data scientists or engineers,” Robert shared. 

Additionally, Robert connects his Unite participants with undergraduate student mentors throughout their time in the program, so they can meet and interact with someone majoring in STEM who can share their academic experiences.

For most students, Unite provides an opportunity to “figure out” if STEM is something they would be interested in. 

“It’s a time for learning and discovery,” said Robert. “Many students come in the door at the beginning of the program with one idea of what they want to study or be when they grow up; then, four weeks later, they leave the program inspired to pursue a completely new path.”

This period of STEM discovery really works. Over the past couple of summers, the majority of Robert’s Unite students who went on to college have decided to pursue a degree in STEM.

What’s most impressive about his students, Robert explains, is their commitment to learning. For example, last year, Robert had two students who wanted to participate in Unite but had to work during the time of the program. To make the program accessible, Robert recorded his lab demonstrations, as well as the presentations with the DoD guest speakers, so that after work, these students could access the career exploration activities and resources online. 

“It was beyond impressive to see the way these students engaged with the material and the quality of hands-on work they submitted,” he said.

When asked for any words of advice to students considering Unite, Robert’s are simple: “Do it!” 

Summer 2023 Unite applications are now open. Find a program near you and apply today!

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