From Community to Career - A Longitudinal Study of an Out-of-School Science Program and Youth from Populations Underrepresented in STEM
Approximately 8.4 million children in the United States participate annually in out-of-school time (OST) programs with a science component. These programs have been shown to have a wide range of impacts on scientific literacy, school achievement, and career interest. Because such programs take place outside of home and school, they offer participants learning flexibility and a sense of agency that otherwise do not exist in traditional science learning contexts. However, current research on OST is largely limited to evaluation-level data that has not been synthesized, making it difficult to draw definite conclusions. As seen in other fields, a larger evidence base is needed for the OST field to grow or else non-evidence-based policies will be imposed upon the field by outside forces. The project team will conduct an experimental, longitudinal research project to address these issues. This Research-in-Service to Practice project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. The study uses a sophisticated design with a wide variety of measures to follow three cohorts of adolescent youth (~200) over a 4-year period to address the primary research question: How does participation of adolescent youth from traditionally underrepresented groups in a well-established, out-of-school time science program affect their career choices and attitudes towards science as they mature into early adulthood? While each measure is rooted in established literature and methodology, putting it all together using a comprehensive, complementary approach has not yet been done in the OST field. The research studies will be looking at a number of variables in order to measure program impact including: demographic and experiential background of program participants, STEM attitudes, career interest/choices, scientific engagement, and participation. Data will be collected via survey, observation, interviews, and document review. The program practitioners will contribute diary and field note data to the study. This project will provide STEM education practitioners with the evidence-based information they need to develop better programs for underrepresented minority (URM) youth so program and policy decisions are not made in a vacuum. Operationally, findings will have an impact on OST and URM science education researchers by generating new research methodology and techniques. Tactically, it will benefit greater URM communities by investigating how OST programs can support science learning and scientific interest among their adolescent youth. Strategically, the study impacts the nation by providing evidence about the validity of OST programs as a critical partner to address the issue of URM involvement in the STEM workforce. Also, the corpus of raw data will be made public, providing a large and varied data set for others to explore. This research is being conducted by the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, and the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.