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Interest | Preeti Gupta

Preeti Gupta is the Director for Youth Learning and Research at at the American Museum of Natural History, where she is responsible for strategic planning,program development and research and evaluation for out of school time youth initiatives. Her research interests are focused on the trajectories of youth’s experiences with science in and out of school settings, the role that museums play in motivation and deepening engagement with STEM and STEM careers, youth employment and workforce development and the factors that mediate how youth identify with the scientific enterprise. You can watch this short video, download the full transcript, and get highlights from the interview below.

"If you’re working in out-of-school-time environments, at the core you are engaging kids to get them interested or deepening their interest."

Preeti Gupta, Director of Youth Learning and Research, American Museum Natural History
Preeti Gupta

2018 Interview Highlights:

What is your working definition of interest?
The way I would define STEM interest goes beyond a particular topic of science. It happens when a person begins to see that STEM is a part of their everyday life, and they also begin to see that you can and should access science when you need to, without being afraid of it. It’s also that they feel science is important. If they hear a story or read a story, even if they’re not equally interested in everything that’s science, they can see the value of studying it or the value of reading about that as a field.

What are some of the ways you measure interest?
I use a survey to find out if they told their family about [the program], their friends about it, or their teachers about it. I look for whether they’re sharing concepts, an affect that they experienced, or something they saw or did like an artifact that they got to experience. All of those things to me are indicators of interest. When I code them I can better think about whether their takeaways are more content-related or affect-related. I don’t think either is wrong, because I think they’re both indicators. 

Mostly I use post-surveys to assess interest, and that’s because of time constraints. The tradeoff is that you can’t really get too deep and too rich with the responses you’re getting. That said, a lot of youth do give whole-paragraph answers to open-ended questions. 

How do you think interest is connected with identity, motivation, or attitudes, and how do you distinguish science interest from these other concepts, if at all?
They’re all interrelated. Interest and attitudes are directly related. We’ve seen lots of evidence of kids coming in with attitudes toward science that were not positive or were unfortunately more negative, because of school. The out-of-school-time programs helped to turn those into positive attitudes. And I think interest can launch a STEM identity, but it also might not. That’s where you need lots of other factors to support you. 

How and why do you think interest matters for science learning?
What we’ve discovered is that it matters but it’s not the only thing. The reason it matters is because it’s the ignition and it’s what stays with you when things get tough. But I don’t think that STEM interest carries you during the difficult times. I think that you need to couple that with strong mentors, with acquisition of skills that you can then bring into your college experiences or other out-of-school-time experiences, with confidence and efficacy with the content. 

What are the big questions in informal science education, science communication, or even formal science education for the next five to 10 years regarding interest?
I guess we need to move the field forward by not asking the same questions over and over and working in isolation. We need to learn and move on. So my questions are not about STEM interest. My questions are the following: What is the value added that kids get from coming to a museum experience? How is it getting them to think differently about their pathways and, for a subset, about their careers? What are they talking about when they leave the museum? Who are they talking to? Because with that we can answer questions about STEM literacy.

What led you to study interest?
STEM interest is very hard to predict and it’s very hard to prescribe, and we’re talking about people who are all different from each other. What we’re learning is, the adults in the room matter; not just the educators who are teaching the courses but also the coordinators and the scientist guest lecturers. It could also be someone like me—I might not really be visible when they’re taking the course, but I might go in during one of the class days and chat with kids, and I might say something that triggers something for them. We take for granted the power that we might bring with us in the words we say to youth, and in particular how that might trigger STEM interest. 

Download full interview

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