An Integrated Approach to Creating STEM Career Pathways
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 developing and testing a six-year sequence of courses and summer events designed to prepare low-income youth for the local area workforce. The project will recruit, retain, and prepare students from underrepresented populations in STEM-related fields. While in the program, students will learn: a) science concepts related to hydroponics; b) how to develop hydroponics systems that are powered by alternative energy sources; c) how to build and program robotic arms to plant and harvest produce; d) how to automate the operation and monitoring of hydroponic systems; and e) how to build and program telepresence robots while earning college credits. Midway through the program, beginning in grade 10, participating students will also benefit from a Web-based mentoring program that will facilitate interactions with STEM professionals, program alumni, and each other. The project is collaborative effort involving a school district, a community college, a university, and a mentoring organization.
Outcomes of the multi-year program of activities, courses, and mentoring strategies will be studied through a mixed-methods research approach based on a combination of survey data and participant interviews. The theoretical framework for the project is grounded in social cognitive career theory, career construction theory, and the relational theory of working. The work will be guided by four research questions: 1. To what extent does the seeding-the-future intervention foster progress in students' intentions to pursue further STEM educational options and to consider STEM careers? 2. To what extent does the intervention enhance students' career adaptability, as defined by academic resilience? 3. What role does relational support, as exemplified by the virtual mentoring program, support from family members, teachers, and other important people in the students' lives, play in self-efficacy development, interest formation, resilience, and intentionality to pursue STEM courses and fields? And, 4. How do youth understandings of complex scientific and technological systems change over time, and what aspects of the program support youth system thinking? Constructs being measured include social support, academic support, academic resilience, mathematics and science outcome expectancy, mathematics and science intent, mathematics and science self-efficacy, and science interest.