A new University of Minnesota STEM Education Center has received funds to start a program focusing on local underrepresented students this fall.

The Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation gave the center $300,000 to start the Prepare2Nspire program, which will tutor and mentor middle and high school students, said Lesa Clarkson, an associate professor in Curriculum and Instruction.

The program will train University undergraduates to tutor and mentor eleventh graders to prepare them for college math, said Clarkson, the program’s principal investigator.

Those eleventh-graders will then tutor and mentor eighth grade students in algebra.

The project is funded by a one-year grant. If the program is successful, Clarkson said, she hopes to get the funding to continue it.

The program targets Minneapolis students who are potential first-generation college students, ethnic minorities and students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, Clarkson said.

“Just because a student is from a poor family doesn’t mean they can’t be successful,” said University PhD candidate Sousada Chidthachack, the program’s recruitment and retention operator.

One reason the program started, Clarkson said, was to make sure underrepresented students don’t fall behind in the state’s math regulations, which have required eighth grade students to complete Algebra 1 since 2007.

The funding will be enough to tutor and mentor 135 eight and eleventh grade students.

“If we can prepare students better in math in high school, then students have the opportunity to be more successful,” said.

Clarkson said getting students interested in math is important because it’s becoming a necessary skill in many careers.

“Math is just not optional anymore,” Clarkson said. “It’s so easy to give up when you don’t have the support when you’re trying to learn math.”

Chidthachack said she hopes the program will inspire young students to pursue higher education in math-related fields.

“That’s why this mentoring is so huge,” she said. “It’s so much more than just a math program.”