Building Bridges: Broadening the STEM Conversation in Rural Mississippi

Sunday, July 1, 2018 to Monday, September 30, 2019
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions
Environment Type: 
Professional Development, Conferences, and Networks, Conferences
Elementary School Children (6-10) | Middle School Children (11-13) | Youth/Teen (up to 17) | General Public | Museum/ISE Professionals | Scientists
Education and learning science | General STEM
Access and Inclusion: 
Mississippi State University

Many of the nation's poorest-performing schools are in rural areas. Anecdotal information suggests participation in and access to informal STEM learning opportunities in Mississippi - a state with among the lowest STEM-career readiness in the nation - is unequally distributed among geographic regions and sociocultural environments. Informal learning programs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) have the potential to reach into rural communities and provide a bridge to greater STEM access, literacy, and career readiness. Building Bridges: Broadening the STEM Conversation in Rural Mississippi will initiate a dialog among key practitioners, experts, and stakeholders in informal STEM learning focused on identifying the causes of and solutions to STEM inclusion barriers among rural youth. The goal of this Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) Conference Project aligns with NSF's mission to promote the progress of science for all segments of society, including rural K-12 students. Solutions to STEM disconnections identified in Mississippi through this project will have relevance and transferability to rural communities across the southeastern US, given regional commonalities in socioeconomic, educational, and cultural factors.

This project aims to conduct an interactive and participant-based summit that brings together key leaders and experts from informal science learning institutions and organizations, STEM-related agencies and industries, and rural community groups to improve methods for linking informal STEM learning opportunities with rural, K-12 students. The goal of the project is to identify the common barriers and explore potential solutions to informal STEM participation by rural K-12 students in Mississippi. With the guidance of a steering committee, a Mississippi STEM Consortium will be formed and convened at a 2019 Mississippi Informal STEM Consortium Summit with the following goals: (1) Identify broad barriers to informal STEM learning in diverse and rural K-12 populations. (2) Define crucial and transformative elements in informal STEM programs deemed successful in rural student recruitment and engagement. (3) Improve collaborative networking to enhance the role of informal education in building statewide STEM capacity. These objectives will be met by developing, implementing, and evaluating statewide needs-assessment surveys and a two-day summit of Consortium members. The project evaluator will ensure process and outcome evaluations are properly conducted throughout the entire course of the project to inform planning, promote iterative improvement, monitor progress, and ensure achievement of desire objectives. With regards to broader impacts, it is anticipated that outcomes from this project will have impact within and beyond Mississippi's borders. Expected project outcomes include scientific manuscripts on needs-assessment surveys, modified approaches to existing informal STEM activities, future research on identified informal STEM participation barriers and mitigation measures, new collaborations that broaden participation and expand future research, and a draft Informal STEM Strategic Plan for Mississippi. Varied dissemination methods will be used to communicate the findings broadly.

This conference project is funded by the AISL program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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Team Members

Leslie BurgerLeslie BurgerPrincipal Investigator
Sarah LeeSarah LeeCo-Principal Investigator
Katherine EcholsKatherine EcholsCo-Principal Investigator
Vemitra WhiteVemitra WhiteCo-Principal Investigator

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