Bridging the World of Work and Informal STEM Education
To reach its full potential in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the United States must continue to recruit, prepare and maintain a diverse STEM workforce. Much work has been done in this regard. Yet, underrepresentation in STEM fields persists and is especially pronounced for Hispanic STEM professionals. The Hispanic community is the youngest and fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the United States but comprises only seven percent of the STEM workforce. More evidence-based solutions and innovative approaches are required. This project endeavors to address the challenges of underrepresentation in STEM, especially among individuals of Hispanic descent, through an innovative approach. The University of San Diego will design, develop, implement, and test a multilayered STEM learning approach specific to STEM learning and workforce development in STEM fields targeting Hispanic youth. The STEM World of Work project will explore youth STEM identity through three mechanisms: (1) an assessment of their individual interests, strengths, and values, (2) exposure to an array of viable STEM careers, and (3) engagement in rigorous hands-on STEM activities. The project centers on a youth summer STEM enrichment program and a series of follow-up booster sessions delivered during the academic year in informal contexts to promote family engagement. Paramount to this work is the core focus on San Diego's Five Priority Workforce Sectors: Advanced Manufacturing, Information and Communications Technology, Clean Energy, Healthcare, and Biotech. Few, if any, existing projects in the Advancing Informal STEM learning portfolio have explored the potential connections between these five priority workforce sectors, informal STEM learning, and identity among predominately Hispanic youth and families engaged in a year-long, culturally responsive STEM learning and workforce focused program. If successful, the model could provide a template for the facilitation of similar efforts in the future.
The STEM World of Work project will use a mixed-methods, exploratory research design to better understand the variables influencing STEM learning and academic and career choices within the proposed context. The research questions will explore: (1) the impacts of the project on students' engagement, STEM identity, STEM motivation, and academic outcomes, (2) factors that moderate these outcomes, and (3) the impact the model has on influencing youths' personal goals and career choices. Data will be garnered through cross-sectional and longitudinal surveys and reflective focus groups with the students and their parents/guardians. Multivariate analysis of variance, longitudinal modeling, and qualitative analysis will be conducted to analyze and report the data. The findings will be disseminated using a variety of methods and platforms. The broader impacts of the findings and work are expected to extend well beyond the project team, graduate student mentors, project partners, and the estimated 120 middle school students and their families from the predominately Hispanic Chula Vista Community of San Diego who will be directly impacted by the project.
This exploratory pathways project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants.
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