Project Profile

Exploring Key Predictors of STEM/ICT Career-related Outcomes Using the World Smarts STEM Challenge Model that Incorporates Global Engagement and Mentorship


There is a clear need for a diverse, skilled, and culturally competent science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and information and communications technology (ICT) workforce. Further, the STEM/ICT workforce increasingly recognizes that solutions to the world’s most pressing problems must be developed collaboratively on a global level. Through this project, IREX, in collaboration with researchers at North Carolina State University, will engage high school youth who are historically underrepresented in STEM/ICT fields in a virtual afterschool program that aims to develop global competence and STEM/ICT skills. The project will connect U.S. high school students and STEM/ICT industry mentors in cross-cultural teams with high school students in Ghana via community-based STEM activities. These teams will collaboratively design STEM prototypes that address real-world local problems identified in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Twenty-four teams comprised of eight U.S. youth, eight Ghanaian youth, and two mentors (one U.S. and one Ghanaian) will be engaged in a 10-week curriculum, the World Smarts STEM Challenge, where they interact and collaborate through virtual workforce technologies (Slack, Zoom, and Notion). Slack will serve as the project’s hub, with each bi-national team having their own collaboration channel where they can chat, share documents, record videos, have voice calls, and connect over video chat. The Challenge is designed with a gradual release of responsibility from the STEM/ICT mentor to empower student leadership. In addition to student-driven virtual interactions and collaboration, STEM/ICT mentors provide students with on-going mentorship and two hours of weekly instruction; the mentors offer applied STEM/ICT knowledge and facilitate connections to other key stakeholders in the community. A practice-based research partnership will study the virtual cross-cultural program model for global virtual exchange by measuring its impacts on career-related outcomes and investigating how the virtual model can be adapted to a range of STEM/ICT contexts.

This project will iteratively refine a technology-rich afterschool model that incorporates global engagement and mentored STEM/ICT team learning to foster U.S. adolescents’ STEM/ICT career aspirations and global competence. The project will engage diverse mentors and African American, Hispanic, Ghanaian, and female students. The research team will quantify the impact of the virtual program model by answering the following research question: To what extent does participation in a cross-cultural technology-rich team-based STEM/ICT program impact adolescents’ STEM/ICT career interests, self-efficacy, interest, outcome expectancies, perceptions of contextual supports and global competence? The research methods will include longitudinal surveys of participants and the hypothesized relationships and model will be assessed via structural equation modeling. Program evaluation will employ qualitative and participatory methods to collect formative feedback on the relevance and inclusiveness of intervention activities. A summative evaluation will focus on recruitment strategies and the dissemination workshop. The project will generate new knowledge on the benefits of virtual afterschool programming that focuses both on global collaboration and STEM/ICT skills. Finally, the project will create three primary resources: a World Smarts STEM Activation Kit (planning and logistics focus), a World Smarts STEM Activity pack (curriculum and content focus), and a World Smarts ICT Guide (technology use focus) that organizations, teachers, and mentors can use to adapt their own STEM-focused virtual exchange learning opportunities. This Developing and Testing Innovations 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 STEM and 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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Award Number
Project Duration
2021 - 2024
INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH AND EXCHANGES BOARD INC., District of Columbia, District of Columbia
Project Work State
District of Columbia
Project Status