Seeding the Future of STEM researchers through emerging agricultural technologies
Researchers at Boston College will engage high school aged youth in a three-year pathway framework that will engage the youth in conducting authentic scientific research. The project will involve emerging agricultural technologies like transparent soil (a recent discovery which is a hydrogel that behaves like soil), a near-peer and college-focused mentoring model, and interaction with scientists. The youth will learn to build and code Raspberry Pis (small and affordable computers that students can use to learn programming) to share their data with agronomists and plant scientists. The outcome goal for this work is to prepare youth to enter a post-secondary institution with strong research skills through experience in conducting careful, rigorous scientific research. Throughout the three-year project, youth will be engaged in the same type of scientific research that is occurring at the university level. Specifically, youth will learn: (i) to build the tools (sensors connected to Raspberry Pi and sensors connected to the Internet of Things web infrastructure provided by IBM Watson software system) they will use to collect their data, (ii) to carry out a rigorous scientific investigation (identifying questions, as well as finding and minimizing experimental containments, and determining dependent vs. independent variables), and (iii) to develop models and potential explanations based on their data in collaboration with practicing scientists. The program will recruit low-income youth, and youth from populations underrepresented in science from high schools in Boston Public Schools and support them in learning core scientific research skills and engage them in building the tools they will use to conduct their more complex experiments. The program will not only build the capacity of the youth participants to make potential scientific discoveries, but through the mentoring program youth leaders and mentors will become role models to youth in their community.
There are four major aspects of the proposed work. First, youth will engage with cutting edge technologies being used in scientific research labs. Second, a diverse team of collaborators will be assembled consisting of STEM career development experts, Youth Mentoring experts, Scientists, and Science Educators to design the proposed work. Third, the program is a unique combination of three synergistic components: (1) a near-peer mentoring approach, (2) STEM learning, and (3) youth purpose and career development. Unlike other out-of-school STEM programs, this program will not only support the learning of STEM concepts, but it will do so by taking youth on a personal journey designed to help them discover the relevance of STEM skills for fulfilling future career aspirations, as well as preparing them for post-secondary education. Fourth, the data that youth will share with practicing scientists has the potential to help answer important questions in plant science regarding how plants, particularly their root structures, react to environmental stressors. The research approach provides an opportunity to examine how such constructs as purpose, critical consciousness, and work volition impact youths' intentions to pursue a STEM field. To date, these important constructs have not been seriously considered in STEM career development. Thus, the research on the impact of near-peer mentoring and youths' adaptability and intentionality to explore, pursue, and stay in STEM fields will provide the ITEST community with an evidence-based model integrating near-peer mentoring, scientific research, and STEM career development to elucidate how youth may successfully pursue a STEM field.
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.