Broadening identities for diverse youth in STEM through socioenvironmental problem solving

Broadening identities for diverse youth in STEM through socioenvironmental problem solving


Three hundred middle school youth youth attending schools highly impacted by poverty, with their teachers (n=7), engage in after-school, Saturday, and summer learning that integrates science, engineering, and computing to address environmental problems.


This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students' motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) by engaging in hands-on field experience, laboratory/project-based entrepreneurship tasks and mentorship experiences.

This project at the University of North Carolina addresses STEM access, opportunity, and identity gaps for diverse middle school youth and their teachers. The project activities integrate science, engineering, and computing to address socio-environmental problems that are multifaceted, have local and global significance, and lend themselves to personally meaningful and authentic disciplinary STEM engagement. The hypothesis is that this integrated approach will strengthen youth's STEM-linked identities, broaden their STEM academic and career pathways, provide a model for meaningful STEM integration, and nurture teachers' learning. The project will recruit 60 middle school students from two rural school districts in North Carolina (Randolph County School district and Rockingham County School district). These districts will partner with three middle schools that serve diverse and socioeconomically disadvantaged student populations. The project includes a research component to study youths' STEM-linked identities, which will: (1) identify features of the program that trigger and sustain STEM identity work; (2) fill an enduring gap in the literature by identifying long-term, identity-related outcomes of informal STEM education; and (3) provide an updated, tested model of disciplinary identity. This project contributes to a long-term goal to improve the STEM learning infrastructure in the North Carolina Piedmont so youths who have historically been denied an enriching STEM education can access and remain on pathways that lead to STEM-related personal affiliation, academic success, and career opportunities.

The project objectives are: (1) create, enact, and refine a pedagogical model that engages middle school youth with socioenvironmental problems through science, engineering, and computing; (2) study the effectiveness of the model in triggering and sustaining youth's STEM-linked identities and pathways; (3) test an updated model of disciplinary identity; (4) study the effectiveness of the program for teachers' STEM professional learning. The project includes the following primary intervention strategies: (a) a two-week residential Summer Institute (SI) focuses on the problem of access to clean water, examined through science, engineering, and computing. Near-peer mentors, STEM professionals, undergraduates and graduates in STEM fields, and a STEM career counselor contribute to the SI. Participants include 60 youth and six teachers from partner schools; (b) Saturday Academies (SAs) focus on environmental problems integrating engineering design and computing. The evaluation plan includes comprehensive formative (process) and summative (outcome) components.

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2017 - 2021



University of North Carolina at Greensboro NC

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