NSF INCLUDES: Alliance to Strengthen the STEM Tapestry (ASSisT): Motivating Critical Identity Shifts to Weave the STEM Disenfranchised into Science and the Sustainability Workforce
This innovative research project promotes the progress of science, enhances the national STEM workforce, and benefits society by helping to overcome the challenge of broadening participation of those who are underrepresented in STEM fields. Although many programs designed to broaden participation exist, few individuals in "STEM-disenfranchised" populations -- individuals who feel alienated, marginalized, or incapable of participating in STEM -- choose to make use of these opportunities, due mainly to their own self-identities. This project's focus is on three STEM-disenfranchised groups: 1) adults who have been recently released from incarceration; 2) youth who have been released from juvenile custody; and 3) refugee youth, and builds on existing science education programs. The research team will establish the "Alliance to Strengthen the STEM Tapestry (ASSiST)" -- with members from academia, workforce agencies, NGOs, and government agencies -- to explore how individuals who have an identity prematurely tied to failure in science might benefit from novel interventions that promote a shift of self-identity to becoming science learners, which will then lead them to explore STEM education and job training resources that already exist. Three novel interventions will involve drama activities, story- telling, and ecological restoration projects. This bold approach is designed to help these populations interweave their diverse ways of knowing with STEM workforce, higher education, and to become science-aware citizens, which will enhance U.S. leadership in STEM. ASSisT will create a strategic plan that can be interwoven with those of other NSF INCLUDES Alliances, and identify pathways to distribute outcomes to a national level. This work will provide pathways to bring other groups that are disenfranchised and who -- if motivated and directed -- could strengthen the STEM workforce and education tapestry.
Investments to broaden participation in science in the USA have supported abundant programs and resources, but few individual in "STEM-disenfranchised" populations -- individuals who feel alienated, marginalized, or incapable of participating in STEM -- choose to make use of these opportunities, due most significantly to their own self-identities. The proposed "Alliance to Strengthen the STEM Tapestry (ASSisT)" will carry out research on novel interventions that are designed to lead these individuals to avail themselves of the science education and training resources that already exist. The initial focus is on: 1) adults who have been recently released from incarceration; 2) youth who have been released from juvenile custody; and 3) refugee youth. Using a collective impact approach, ASSisT will carry out early-exploratory research to investigate how the project's novel interventions -- 1) ecological restoration, 2) story-telling/autoethnography, and 3) devised theater -- might shift participants towards self-identification and subsequent involvement with the STEM community. The Intellectual Merit of our approach is grounded in social science research, specifically, identity theory, social cognitive theory, and resilience theory. Using a one-group pretest-posttest design, qualitative research techniques will identify which elements are most critical to foster change, e.g., perceived competence in STEM subjects, congruence of self-perception with those in STEM, mastery of STEM workforce skills, and/or the importance of being a STEM-aware citizen. Broader impacts relate directly to NSF's call for greater STEM participation of women and underrepresented ethnic and socioeconomic minorities with impacts on the initial 30 cohort members for this pilot project. ASSisT will: create a common agenda; recruit cohorts of each STEM-disenfranchised group; design and implement research to test novel interventions; populate a STEM opportunities map; evaluate and analyze outcomes; articulate a strategic plan that can be interwoven with those of other NSF INCLUDES Alliances; and identify pathways to disseminate outcomes and benchmarks to a national level.
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