Project Profile

Caminos a la Ciencia/Pathways to Science: A Program Designed to Recruit, Retain, and Develop Latinas in STEM Disciplines


This is a multi-year project aimed at advancing efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that motivate Latinas to pursue educational pathways to science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) occupations.  The project will work toward identifying and addressing the factors which influence Latinas' levels of engagement in pursuing STEM education throughout their high school years. These factors will include (a) accessibility to STEM learning opportunities; (b) language issues that affect their participation in these activities; (c) level of family or community encouragement to pursue STEM education; and (d) financial pressures, such as providing support for the family or child care. The project team consists of Randolph-Macon College, which serves as the backbone organization, working together with a group of STEM-focused Fortune 500 corporations and nonprofits, as well as state and local government and local public-school systems. The program will identify promising students during their freshman year of high school based on recommendation from a teacher and a written essay. Selected students will be invited to campus for each of three consecutive summers (after the freshman, sophomore, and junior years) where they will participate in targeted activities. These activities will be designed to accomplish several goals: (a) to create a cohesive cohort with an identity embracing intellectual interdisciplinary STEM enquiry; (b) to develop and nurture leadership skills; (c) to expose the cohort to prominent successful Latinas in STEM fields; and (d) to develop skills leading to success in applying to and persisting in a college environment. Synergistic activities will be included for these students and their families to extend the goals into the academic year. At the conclusion of each summer, students will earn modest scholarships to an accredited institution of their choice.

The research questions will be (1) How does engagement, including attitudes, interest in STEM disciplines, and interest in pursuing college education in STEM change for the target population, compared to initial measures of these constructs?; (2) To what extent do partnerships with STEM-focused corporations and nonprofits account for change in engagement observed in participant cohorts?; and (3) To what extent does parental involvement and other external factors account for an observed engagement change in the focus population? To answer these questions, the project will use multiple data collection pathways, including (a) the Student Attitudes Toward STEM (S-STEM) Survey, which measures changes in confidence and efficacy in STEM subjects, 21st century learning skills and interest in STEM careers; (b) pre- and post-camp surveys, which measure interest in STEM topics, and family engagement; and (c) observational assessments of engagements with family members. The focus population will consist of Latinas. The project will follow one third of the population for five years, one third for four years, and one third for three year to collect pertinent data past the end of the funding period to follow the entire cohort through the second year after graduation from high school. Data interpretation strategies will include longitudinal-trend analysis of engagement change and explanatory analysis of the factors that contribute to that change. The main outcome of the project will be the identification of factors that are associated with a successful Latina's pathway from high school to college. The project will conduct formative and summative evaluation to make improvements and adjustments to the program, as well as to determine potential scalability of the work.

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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Project Duration
2019 - 2023
Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, VA
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