FUSE Studios: A New, Interest-Driven Model for Engaging Youth In STEM and Career Development Through Challenges and Partnership with Industry
The FUSE Studios project seeks to engage youth in meaningful ways on sustained pathways towards STEM-related careers and involvement in science in later life. FUSE Studios are organized around sequences of interest-driven challenges (e.g., robot mini-golf, MP3 amplifier, mobile app development jewelry design using 3D/cad) involving both digital and hands-on activities that are informed by authentic science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations and practices, and linked together in a progression modeled after computer-game sequences. The challenges will be designed to broaden youth perspectives about what counts as STEM and provide them with more clearly marked pathways towards deepening interest, developing expertise, and broadening exposure to possible career trajectories in STEM. The interest-driven framework is supported by: (1) online mentoring from STEM industry experts; (2) on-demand video clips of experts discussing career linkages relevant to a particular challenge; (3) individual competitions that involve artifact judging; and (4) studio-wide contests that provide a prize to all members of a studio based on collective achievements. The project has enlisted partnership commitments supporting the development of career-related challenges from eight STEM organizations including large and small businesses, non-profits, and university research centers. The project currently operates in 19 Chicago-area sites, including libraries, schools and community centers, and will expand to additional sites in late 2014.
Project research will study participants' engagement with challenging sequences, considering both how participants engage, and what they learn when doing so. Building upon pilot work and initial evaluation findings, the project will investigate research questions that address whether and how engagement with the industry- and university-themed challenge sequences affect participants' STEM career interests and the widely-recognized dispositional qualities of innovation, adaptive flexibility, and persistence in the face of difficulty. The project will collect quantitative data from: (1) youth participation computer records (e.g., the number of youth who choose specific challenges, how much time they spend, how many levels they complete); (2) self-efficacy surveys; and (3) pre/post surveys of changes in career interest. Qualitative data will be obtained via: (1) micro-ethnographic studies; (2) structured participant and facilitator interviews (administered during and after challenge participation); (3) evaluation of the artifacts produced by participants for each challenge level; and (4) longitudinal follow-up.