Exploring Careers and Learning Informally to Prepare for STEM Employment
More than 100 urban and suburban youth grades 9-12 are engaged in a year long after school paid internship program using project-based learning and direct service learning.
This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase student motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) by designing, implementing, and testing an afterschool internship program that will engage older youth in work-based learning experiences in in STEM fields. The new model program will link the resources and learning approaches of the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program to career academies where youth from populations underrepresented in STEM fields will gain direct experiences in data collection and analysis through student-led investigations in the geosciences and environmental studies. Two key outcomes of this project will be: (a) Development of a replicable model of an afterschool STEM internship program for informal STEM learning environments and schools across the nation, and (b) Development of a set of measurement tools and approaches that can assess and promote understanding regarding how youth think and feel about science and their possible future roles in science careers. Participating youth will master scientific practices and become immersed in science culture through opportunities to develop research projects, interact with scientists, and collaborate with fellow student-researchers. In the process, they will develop collaboration and communication skills, and gain an increased sense of identity and agency in science fields. They will also learn new strategies to attain their career goals.
In developing and testing the new model of an afterschool program focusing on STEM careers, the project will draw on both existing and emerging knowledge from three areas of inquiry: informal STEM learning, youth development, and work-based learning. The project will bring together theory related to work-based learning and apprenticeship to knowledge about informal STEM learning and youth development, addressing the needs of older youth as they transition to adulthood. The program will also explore the use of measurement tools that address workforce-related student learning goals in addition to social-emotional learning and STEM learning goals, adapting existing tools and developing new tools as needed. The result will be a replicable model for an afterschool, career-focused internship that facilitates STEM learning and identity, employing youth development principles, such as experiential learning, peer collaboration, adult mentoring, and meaningful contributions to the world beyond school. The project will use a mixed-methods approach to investigate four research questions: (1) What aspects of the program are most important for promoting the development of scientific practices, socio-emotional learning, and career skills? (2) How can afterschool informal science learning be designed to address the perceptions and needs of diverse groups, especially those from populations underrepresented in STEM? (3) How do youth make gains in developing facility with STEM practices, key social-emotional outcomes needed in work and civic life, and career development knowledge? And (4) How do we accurately measure development of scientific practices, socio-emotional learning and career skills? The project will develop pretest and posttest self-report measures to gauge program influence on social-emotional outcomes and career-related outcomes, and performance-based assessments and rubrics will be used to assess culminating science projects. Other factors contributing to the success of the new model will be examined through analysis of coach instructional logs, surveys, and questions, as well as participant observations, interviews, and focus groups. Project participants will be youth of ages 14-18 recruited from ten inner-city schools having large populations of students from groups underrepresented in STEM fields. Participants will meet in teams of approximately 14 interns for a total of 2.5 hours per week for 32 weeks. Each team will also meet an additional 4-6 times for weekend or overnight outings associated with their study sites.