Project Profile

Urban STEM Stewards: Expanding Career Interests through Citizen-Science with Community Partners


This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase student motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). The project will implement an innovative model of citizen-science in which teachers, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) professionals, and middle-high school students from groups underrepresented in STEM work together, applying STEM learning to address environmental issues in their communities (storm water runoff, energy savings from trees). The civic-science nexus, which links STEM with civic contribution, offers unique possibilities for exploring STEM career pathways with students from marginalized communities. Middle- and high-school students will participate as citizen-scientists in place-based investigations into urban ecological issues, working alongside teachers and STEM community partners, to address local environmental issues. Students will develop hypotheses, collect and analyze data during field investigations, build knowledge and skills through supplementary classroom activities, take local stewardship actions, and communicate project results in public forums. Teachers and STEM partners will participate in the professional development (PD) program that trains them in facilitating student inquiry-driven, place-based stewardship projects. They will also share resources on-line, and form a learning community in the process. The aim of the project is to understand the mechanisms whereby local place-based inquiry can build interest in STEM and STEM careers. There is considerable evidence that, for populations underrepresented in STEM, interest and learning increases when connections are made between STEM learning, students' personal interests and their community. However, the potential of interest sparked by these projects may be fleeting unless students are supported in linking the passion they feel to STEM identity pathways they might pursue.

The project will use a mixed methods research strategy to: 1) measure changes in students' STEM career aspirations, interests, and beliefs before and after engaging in environmental work; 2) investigate factors that influence those changes; and 3) assess the impact of randomized interventions that emphasize STEM utility for students' civic goals.  Measures include students' pre-post surveys, reflective essays, and observations of each STEM community partner's field work with students documenting STEM learning and applications. Three STEM professional partners representing different sectors (private company, government, non-government organization) will partner with 18 urban middle-high school classes.  An estimated 720 students from racial/ethnic minority groups underrepresented in STEM will participate in the program and assessment. The project will disseminate findings via academic venues and by developing outreach materials focusing on best practices and disseminating them to formal and informal educator networks.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.


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Co-Principal Investigator(s)
Primary Contact


Award Number
Project Duration
2018 - 2022
University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI
Project Work State
Target Gradespan(s)
Middle school (6-8)
High school (9-12)
Project Setting(s)
Formal Education
Geographic Location(s)
Project Status
Additional Disciplines
Environmental Science - ecological research and analysis
Additional Target Participants
Students eligible for Free/reduced price lunch
Black or African American
Hispanic or Latino