Project Profile

Broadening Interest in Geosciences, Habitat, and Technology among Girls


This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students' motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) by engaging high school Alaskan girls in studies of nearby natural environments. An out-of-school program consisting of a 10-day summer academy and six Saturday events during the school year will be implemented in both Juneau and Fairbanks. The program structure will be the same in both locations. We will build on students' general interest in biology and the natural environment to frame interdisciplinary studies of ecosystem dynamics, geophysical dynamics, and use of technologies, such as remote sensing. In Fairbanks the program will focus on the life history and ecosystems of salmon, and in Juneau the program will focus on the life history and ecosystems of harbor seals; both animals are familiar and important to the cultural lives of participants. During the summer, academy participants will generate research questions, conduct mini-research projects, synthesize their observations and results, and present their findings to the public. During these activities, participants will hear from local female scientists from the region, and they will work alongside female undergraduate and graduate science majors in using scientific instruments to take measurements and conduct analyses. During the school year following the academy, students will explore environmental change scenarios with scientists, community members, and various agency representatives; they will explore the impacts of temperature variations on habitat variation; they will meet with indigenous residents to hear stories about the focal species of interest; and they will visit STEM workplaces and explore possible career tracks with career professionals and counselors.

This project will examine the impacts of an out-of-school, place-based, and research based learning environment on the STEM-related career interests and identity development of high school girls. The goals of the project are to: a) increase the intent of Alaskan girls to enter STEM careers; b) increase interest in the geosciences and technology among Alaskan girls; and c) Increase Alaskan girls' actual and perceived STEM competencies. Recruitment of participants will be targeted on schools and districts having high proportions of indigenous students, economically disadvantaged students, or students representing other minority groups. The project research plan focuses on an under-explored area of study: the relationship between science identity and engagement with role models, particularly within the context of out-of-school learning environments. Data will be collected from participants using semi-structured interviews before, after, and a year past exposure to the program; summer and Saturday events will be videotaped to document the practices of participants, instructors, and role models; and a variety of artifacts generated by participants during their involvement in the program will be analyzed. A grounded theory approach will be used to construct answers to three research questions: a) What is the impact of professional STEM role models (female) on the participants' identity development and motivation to pursue STEM? B) To what extent does the proposed learning environment, which leverages real-world research problems, impact identity? And c) What do the girls learn about STEM and STEM practices, and how does this relate to who they want to become? The research team will also seek evidence of participant impressions of scientists and how interests in biology may link to interests in geoscience and technology.


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Award Number
Project Duration
2015 - 2019
University of Alaska Fairbanks Campus, Fairbanks, AK
Project Work State
Target Gradespan(s)
High school (9-12)
Project Setting(s)
Informal Education
Geographic Location(s)
Project Status
Additional Disciplines
Environmental Science - remote sensing technology
Additional Target Participants
Students eligible for Free/reduced price lunch
American Indian or Alaskan Native