Investigating How Museum Experiences Inform Youths' STEM Career Awareness and Interest

Investigating How Museum Experiences Inform Youths' STEM Career Awareness and Interest


Museums in the US receive approximately 55 million visits each year from students in school groups. Field trip visits to an art museum have been found to positively impact critical thinking skills, empathy and tolerance - an increase that can be even more significant for youth from rural or high-poverty regions. While field trips are popular, especially at science museums, there have been no experimental studies about their impact on STEM career choices and interests, much less any which used a culturally sensitive and responsive approach. Given the resources put into field trips, this study investigates if causal links can be drawn between museum experiences and impact on youth. The Museum of Science & Industry uses a Learning Labs approach for engaging its visitors.  These "Learning Labs" are facilitated experiences that run roughly an hour. Currently there are 12 lab topics. This study focuses on MedLab--one of the learning labs--as the setting for the research. MedLab is designed for on-site and online experience using ultra-sophisticated and highly versatile technology in challenges taken from research on the top healthcare issues that face adolescents in their communities.

This study is informed by research and theory on Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) and Racial and Ethnic Identity. The former describes a process many follow when thinking about career options, broadly. The latter describes how people see themselves in the world through their membership with a racial and/or ethnic group. Both processes can collectively influence STEM career choices. This study follows an embedded mixed-method design. The quantitative portion includes an experimental, pre/post/delayed post-test design of both educators and their students using multiple measures taken mostly from previously published instruments. The qualitative portion includes observation rubrics of MedLab sessions along with interviews and focus groups with staff, educators, students and families that take place both within and outside of the museum. This is an experimental study of moderate size of both heterogeneous teacher and student populations in real world settings. It involves comparing youth and educators that participate in MedLab with those who do not. By conducting research that looks at each community through the lens of their unique experiences, the research will measure their impact more sensitively and authentically, addressing a gap in current literature on informal science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) career education with diverse students.

This study is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program and the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program. The AISL program seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. The ITEST program seeks to better understand and promote practices that increase student motivations and capacities to pursue careers STEM-related fields.

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.


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2019 - 2022


Museum of Science and Industry Chicago, IL

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