Peering a generation into the future: NSF's Young Scholars Program and the nation’s STEM workforce
The first pre-college programs that the National Science Foundation (NSF) administered when it restarted pre-college education funding in 1988 included the Young Scholars Program (YSP). The YSP reflected NSF’s intention to reach high-achieving students and to increase the likelihood that they would subsequently enter science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors and the STEM workforce. YSP targeted adolescents, grades 7-12, with summer, weekend, and after-school enrichment programs. It made just over 600 awards to 316 separate projects between FY88 and FY96, involving approximately 18,000 students. A significant fraction of these YSP participants is now part of the national STEM workforce. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of these participants would not have pursued a STEM career without their YSP involvement. The major purpose of this project is to assess and document YSP's actual impact on the national STEM workforce. A priority interest in doing so involves current STEM workforce participation of Black, Latinx, Native American, and female individuals, and the relationship between their YSP participation and later career pathways. Using archival records and social media, the project team will contact as many YSP alumni as possible, seeking participation both in online surveys and in interviews. Probing current professionals about the impact of programs they participated in during middle or secondary school a quarter century ago is an opportunity that could not have been realistically contemplated when the program was in operation. This project allows a fast-forward view to see how strategies played out, by directly communicating with participants and creating analyses that can inform current and future programming. The project will apply several techniques for contacting former YSP students, reaching out to former YSP host institutions and project directors, multiple internet search methods, and snowball sampling. Surveys and interviews will be shaped by social-cognitive career theory, epistemic frame theory, and interest-driven creator theory. The project will contribute to the research literature associated with these theories, with deliverables that reflect analysis and synthesis of the surveys and interviews. It will also furnish research- and historically, grounded guidance for current programs by NSF and other organizations to create a sophisticated and inclusive future STEM workforce. This project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers. 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.