ITEST projects address NSF priorities on youth participation, teacher professional development and broadening participation in STEM

STELAR is excited to announce the publication of four syntheses that describe results of the ITEST program since its beginning in 2003. ITEST projects have designed experiences for youth that contribute to their STEM interests, they have contributed to the field of STEM professional development for teachers, and they have designed projects that broaden the reach of in-school and out-of-school projects to youth who don’t otherwise have access to unique STEM experiences.

Describing what ITEST projects have achieved is a complex endeavor because of the wide range of disciplines which house ITEST projects, the diversity of ITEST grantees’ backgrounds, specialties, and professional communities, as well as the diversity of local contexts for which projects are designed. ITEST by definition is innovative; it crosses multiple content areas; it works with youth from traditionally underrepresented groups; and it focuses explicitly on workforce development. It is unique among NSF programs in part because it is funded by H-1B visa program revenues aimed at supporting programs that will help to grow a diverse STEM workforce.

NSF has asked ITEST PIs and evaluators to frame their work around seven guiding questions. The questions are broad, and not intended to be answered by any one project. For example, one question asks, “Given the shifting demographics reflected in our current classrooms and in our country, what are effective and productive ways to ensure broadening participation by engaging diverse underrepresented populations in STEM programs and careers?”

With 13 years of project implementation, hundreds of projects and thousands of students and teachers, STELAR decided to look at the current state of the field around these guiding questions to see how ITEST PIs and evaluators develop unique projects to innovatively reach youth who otherwise might not consider STEM careers and then describe their results. In collaboration with SRI Education, we reviewed more than 200 publications that have been written about ITEST projects. We have synthesized our findings from the review into four reports that address three of the guiding questions.

Question One: What coherent sets of experiences effectively and efficiently support student competency (e.g. knowledge, skills), motivation and persistence for productive participation in the STEM-related workforce of today or in the future?

STEM Learning Games and Game Design in ITEST Projects highlights 12 projects that addressed this question by implementing game-focused projects in both in-school and out-of-school settings.

Authentic Inquiries into Local Issues: Increasing Engagement and Building a Sense of STEM Identity and Agency highlights an additional 12 projects that focused on authentic inquiries using mapping or environmental monitoring.

Question Two: What instructional and curricular models can effectively engage teachers to utilize and integrate technologies so as to enhance student understanding of STEM-related occupations?

Engaging Teachers in Supporting Next Generation STEM Learning looks at nine teacher-focused projects.

Question Three: Given the shifting demographics reflected in our current classrooms and in our country, what are effective and productive ways to ensure broadening participation by engaging diverse underrepresented populations in STEM programs and careers?

Promising Approaches to Broadening Youth Participation in STEM describes how 12 grantees designed projects to align with the unique experiences of Native American youth, rural youth, and Latina girls, among others.

We are excited to share the four syntheses and the more than 40 projects that describe how they have contributed to the field of STEM workforce development in diverse ways. These syntheses have focused on three of the seven ITEST guiding questions; we plan to continue synthesizing findings from ITEST projects, both by considering the four remaining questions—the role of business and industry for both students and teachers, strategies for parents, mentors and caregivers, and strategies for principals, guidance counselors and other school administrators—as well as by looking at those projects that have been scaling up their work through multiple ITEST grants.

If you have a publication that you would like to share with the ITEST community and promote as part of this effort, please email

To view all ITEST publications, visit the resources section of our website.