Project Spotlight: Examining the Impact of an Industry-aligned, STEM Problem Based Learning Curriculum on Native Hawaiian and Underrepresented Youth Workforce Development

What strategies have you found most effective and productive to broadening participation by engaging diverse underrepresented populations in STEM programs and careers?

Through our STEMulate Project (DRL 1657625), students that participated in our STEM Problem-based Learning (PBL) Model students met and worked with STEM Industry partners in authentic ways - such as researching more about the presented problem or designing a solution pathway together.  As students engaged through the STEM PBL process, they were introduced to mentors and content area experts along the way, who also shared their career pathways.  Research results indicated STEMulate students were more interested in participating in the STEM careers and fields than the comparison group. Findings clearly demonstrate a relationship between student science self-efficacy and motivation and their perceptions of PBL and their interest in future STEM careers. 

What is unique about your work? 

Although it was not the primary focus of our study, the theme of cultural relevance was identified by our researcher, Dr. Nahid Nariman, as a noteworthy recurring finding. The STEM PBL Model developed, implemented, and studied during our ITEST project  centers the learning process around students' lived experiences and allows students to bring their knowledge bases into the classroom.  Students engage in learning about the presented problems and work towards solutions through authentic learning experiences which are not limited to contemporary STEM sources but also include Hawaiian cultural practices and worldview.  The inclusion of Hawaiian cultural practices and worldview provided students with a holistic understanding of the presented problems and provided a culturally grounded lens as students considered possible solution pathways.  STEMulateʻs STEM PBL model integrates cultural practices and world view with STEM learning to provide students with culturally relevant STEM learning experience. 

What roles might business and industry play in motivating students to consider a future in STEM? What roles might business and industry play in preparing teachers to support student awareness of the workplace? 


For Project STEMulate, these two questions are intertwined. One of the things I love about this STEM PBL model is that it brings people together towards a common goal!  Specifically, STEM PBL brings STEM Industry Partners, teachers, and students together to solve real-world problems.   In STEMulateʻs STEM PBL model, a STEM Industry partner presents a real-world problem to students.  This problem is something that the STEM Industry partner is currently working on in the real-world.  Throughout the course of the program, students work towards better understanding the problem and identifying potential solutions. The STEM Industry partner, depending on their capacity to be involved, provides authentic learning experiences through mentoring, site visits, or hands on learning.   

Teachers are critical in facilitating students learning through the STEM PBL process.  Through the implementation of Project STEMulate and teacher feedback, we found that teachers need to be introduced to STEM Industry Partners prior to their implementation of the STEMulate curriculum. As part of our project, we developed and implemented a STEM PBL Teacher Training.  During this teacher training, teachers are introduced to  and start working with the STEM Industry partner  on developing the problem to be presented to students.  This supports teachers in building rapport with STEM Industry Partners and coordinating authentic learning experiences for students to participate in.   


Based on your experiences, what kinds of STEM experiences support student competency, motivation and persistence? 


Youth love being outside and just ʻdoingʻ stuff!  As an emerging theme in our research, students highlight the importance of authentic learning experiences (in the form of site visits, field trips, mentoring, and hands-on experiments).  These authentic learning experiences relate to STEM learning and validate students' lived experiences as part of the learning process.  Incorporating authentic learning experiences with STEM learning are the key to developing student motivation and persistence.