Cultivating Tomorrow’s Engineers through the Entertainment & Hospitality Landscape
This Innovations in Development project aims to foster the development of STEM identity among a diverse group of middle school students and, in turn, motivate them to pursue in STEM interests and careers. Vegas STEM Lab, led by a team of investigators from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, will employ a mix of online and on-site activities to introduce students to engineering methods in the context of the entertainment and hospitality (E&H) industry that is the lifeblood of Las Vegas. Investigators will collaborate with local resorts, multimedia designers, and arts institutions to offer field experiences for students to interview, interact with, and learn from local experts. The Lab will help youth overcome prevailing beliefs of STEM as boring and difficult, boost their confidence as STEM-capable individuals, and expose them to the exciting STEM careers available in their hometown. UNLV engineering undergrads will serve as near-peer mentors to the middle school students, guiding them through Lab activities and acting as role models. Investigators will measure student learning and engagement over the course of the Vegas STEM Lab experience with the aim of understanding how the Lab model—with its rich set of activities and interpersonal interactions set in the local E&H industry—can cultivate STEM identity development and encourage students to pursue STEM pathways. Despite the project’s hyperlocal focus on the Las Vegas community, if successful, other cities and towns may learn from and adapt the Lab model for use in their youth development programs.
Vegas STEM Lab will provide online materials for students’ STEM learning during the academic year followed by on-site visits and hands-on project development during a three-week summer experience. The Lab will run for three years with cohorts of 40 students each (N=120) with the aim of iteratively improving its activities and outcomes from year to year. The local school district will help recruit middle school students who have demonstrated low interest in STEM to participate in the Lab, ensuring that participants reflect the demographic makeup of the Las Vegas community in terms of race and ethnicity, socio-economic status, and gender. Summer activities will take students behind the scenes of the city’s major E&H venues; investigate the workings of large-scale displays, light shows, and “smart hospitality” systems; and then build their own smaller scale engineering projects. Investigators will employ the Dynamic Systems Model of Role Identity (DSMRI) framework to study how intentionally designed Lab experiences shape students’ understanding of themselves, their future aspirations, and their grasp of the scientific enterprise. Summer activities will be integrated into the online learning platform at the end of each year of Vegas STEM Lab, and in the final year of the project, workshops will train local educators to use the platform in either formal or informal learning settings. Materials and research findings produced through this work will be disseminated to middle school teachers and afterschool care providers, and shared with researchers through academic publications and conferences.
This Innovations in Development project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program.
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