Employing Peer Mentoring to Empower Youth to Become 21st Century Energy Leaders
Cities and states, clean energy businesses, labor organizations and engaged citizens are increasingly addressing climate change by exploring how to transition to renewable energy. Those who do the least to cause climate change are often the most vulnerable to its impacts, so it is important to consider the needs of these populations to support a "just transition" to renewable energy. As a result, there is a need for a broader and more diverse "STEM- and equity-literate workforce" – knowledgeable about STEM, possessing requisite thinking skills, and committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. This project proposes to make use of an existing energy transition/climate change simulation experience, En-ROADS, followed by student energy projects to help learners come to understand the issues involved in energy transition and its environmental justice implications. This intervention is intended to advance climate literacy, STEM efficacy, a solutions-focused mindset, and thinking skills. The innovation of this project lies in pairing undergraduates with high school (HS) students as near-peer mentors, with preference given to minority students during recruitment. The undergraduate near-peer mentors will assist the high school students with the simulation activities and with using the knowledge gained from the simulation to create a real-world energy transition project for their local setting. The project is a partnership between universities, local climate change organizations, and a local minority-owned clean energy business, to connect the learners with authentic challenges and career paths in their area. By impacting hundreds of students, the project aims to diversify STEM undergraduate education and the STEM and energy/climate professional and technical workforces in Minnesota, as well as to enhance citizen decision-making by increasing STEM knowledge about energy systems, climate impacts and policy implications.
The research questions interrogate the impact of near-peer mentoring on student outcomes (STEM efficacy, STEM knowledge, hope and urgency with regards to climate issues, knowledge and interest in STEM/ICT careers), on the mentors’ STEM/ICT career aspirations, and also explore the synergistic impact of project components on students’ ability to make connections across the learning opportunities. To address the research questions, 7 high school student-undergraduate teams where the university students provide near-peer mentoring will be compared to 7 high school student-undergraduate teams participating in the same simulation and energy project activities but without near-peer mentoring. The research questions will be addressed via pre/post survey data and via a Grounded Theory analysis of focus group and interview data. Focus groups and interviews will also be used to explore how mentors supported the learners. The contribution to the field arises from the fact that the research questions specifically probe how one strategy, near-peer mentoring, may enhance simulation-based and project-based learning. This project will increase our knowledge about how simulations can be used to prepare learners to engage in real-world projects of personal significance – in other words, it is a demonstration project to show how simulation-based learning can be situated within a larger real-world tapestry of community and career engagement, as opposed to a stand-alone activity intended to convey STEM knowledge alone. The project will produce a series of guides (a standards-aligned curriculum guide, student-led project facilitator guide, and an energy/climate career guide local to the state) that will be disseminated via a number of established networks to permit other educators to emulate the program. This project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers.
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.