Project Profile

Engaging Underrepresented Populations in Environmental Action through Mentoring, Geospatial Technology and Digital Media Storytelling


This project seeks to address several challenges simultaneously: there is a need to improve the diversity of learners and workers in environmentally-focused STEAM (i.e., science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) careers and educational programs, a need to broaden participation in community environmental action, and a need to train future environmentally-focused STEAM workers in effective science communication. This project builds on an existing program that engages teens in intergenerational community conservation projects via geospatial technology so that it can better engage underrepresented youth. The innovation of the project is the inclusion of near-peer mentoring of high school students by undergraduate students, along with other culturally sustaining revisions to the existing program like the inclusion of other digital media forms to better support narrative storytelling, and the integration of a career guidance panel led by professionals engaged in relevant environmental, geospatial, and digital media careers. To prepare the undergraduates as near-peer mentors, they will be engaged in an Environmental Action through Storytelling and Mentoring course. The program will engage school pods (each with about 5 teens and 1 teacher) in both short-term workshops and long-term environmental action projects, guided by the near-peer mentors, university faculty, and community conservation partners. The digital storytelling products of these projects will be shared with the general public via radio, television, and digital platforms.

The research questions are framed around the concept of “identity authoring,” which entails three dimensions of engagement: developing competence with a domain’s content, engaging in performances of domain-specific practices, and being recognized (by oneself and by others) for one’s competence and performance. The project will (RQ1) investigate how the learners’ career interests and identity authoring are influenced by the digital media-supported science communication, the near-peer mentoring, and engagement in community environmental action. The project will also (RQ2) characterize how identity authoring takes place within the school pods. The project will engage up to 270 underrepresented teens, 60 undergraduates, and 54 educators, all of whom will complete pre-, post- and delayed-surveys to measure participants’ identity authoring. To address the second research question, purposive sampling will be used to select 4-10 participants for a longitudinal case study and an additional 4-10 participants for focus groups. The contribution to the field lies in the project’s exploration of how different program elements may encourage identity authoring among underrepresented youth. The broader impacts of the project include exposing learners to the constellation of STEAM careers associated with exploring and communicating environmental issues, as well as the impacts the youth projects may have on local community environmental issues. To facilitate adoption of the program model by others, the approach will be shared via a variety of dissemination strategies with community members, peers, and environmentally-focused STEAM professionals. 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.



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Principal Investigator(s)


Award Number
Project Duration
2022 - 2026
University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT
Project Work State
Project Status