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Project Descriptions

Implementing the STEM Excellence and Leadership Program to Understand the Role of Local Agency in Broadening High-Potential, Rural Students' STEM Participation and Achievement

July 15, 2017 - June 30, 2021 | Informal/Formal Connections

As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative research, approaches and resources for use in a variety of settings. This Research in Service to Practice project will address the issues around Informal Education of rural middle school students who have high potential regarding academic success in efforts to promote computer and IT knowledge, advanced quantitative knowledge, and STEM skills. Ten school districts in rural Iowa will be chosen for this study. It is anticipated that new knowledge on rural informal education will be generated to benefit the Nation's workforce. The specific objectives are to understand how informal STEM learning shapes the academic and psychosocial outcomes of rural, high-potential students, and to identify key characteristics of successful informal STEM learning environments for rural, high-potential students and their teachers. The results of this project will provide new tools for educators to increase the flow of underserved students into STEM from economically-disadvantaged rural settings.

The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology predicts a rapid rise in the number of STEM jobs available in the next decade, describing an urgent need for students' educational opportunities to prepare them for this workforce. In 2014, 62% of CEOs of major US corporations reported challenges filling positions requiring advanced computer and information technology knowledge. The project team will use a mixed methods approach, integrating comparative case study and mixed effects longitudinal methods, to study the Excellence program. Data sources include teacher interviews, classroom observations, and student assessments of academic aptitude and psychosocial outcomes. The analysis and evaluation of the program will be grounded in understanding the local efforts of school districts to build curriculum responsive to the demands of their high-potential student body. The project design, and subsequent analysis plan, utilizes a mixed methods approach, incorporating case study and longitudinal quantitative methods to analyze naturalistic data and build robust evidence for the implementation and impact of this program. This project will provide significant insights in how best to design, implement, and support informal out-of-school learning environments to broaden participation in the highest levels of STEM education and careers for under-resourced rural students.


Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 1713123
Funding Amount: $904,879.00


  • Susan Assouline
    Principal Investigator
    University of Iowa
  • Resource Type: Projects
    Discipline: Computing and information science | Education and learning science | General STEM | Mathematics
    Audience: Educators/Teachers | Evaluators | Learning Researchers | Middle School Children (11-13) | Museum/ISE Professionals
    Environment Type: Informal/Formal Connections | K-12 Programs
    Access and Inclusion: Rural

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