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Project Descriptions

Northwest Passage Project

September 1, 2016 - August 31, 2019 | Media and Technology, Public Programs

The Northwest Passage Project (NPP) is a collaborative effort between the University of Rhode Island (URI), Inner Space Center (ISC), Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO), the film company David Clark Inc., and several other partners, including six Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) and three informal science education institutions. The project centers on a research expedition into the Arctic's Northwest Passage, which will engage intergenerational cohorts of high school, undergraduate, and graduate students in hands-on research aboard the U.S. tall ship SSV Oliver Hazard Perry (OHP). During the expedition, a professional film crew will produce a two-hour documentary focused on the NPP's innovative model of interdisciplinary informal STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning and highlight the expedition's research, participants, and the sociological issues related to the changing Arctic environment. Because the Canadian Arctic is remote and costly to access, the project will maximize NSF's investment by giving broad audiences access to the science and excitement of the expedition through the documentary. In addition, this informal science learning opportunity will not only engage students with scientists in authentic research, but also train the students to deliver daily live broadcasts from sea to three well-established U.S. informal science education institutions: the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), the Exploratorium, and the Alaska Sea Life Center (ASLC). The daily broadcasts will also reach the public in real time via the project's interactive website, providing the opportunity for people to post questions to the scientists and students onboard the ship. The NPP has great potential to benefit society by enhancing awareness of the changing Arctic's ecosystems and increasing science literacy. The hands-on research experiences will enhance the college readiness of the participating high school students and encourage the undergraduate students from the six partner MSIs to consider a graduate course of study and/or pursue STEM careers. The graduate students will also be more career-ready, as they gain public communication and leadership skills necessary for 21st century scientists. The Northwest Passage Project is designed to advance knowledge and understanding within the practice of informal science education, as well as in the field of Arctic science. The project goals include: increasing public awareness and understanding of the changing Arctic ecosystem; increase public understanding about Arctic research and the scientific process; increase the Informal Science Education (ISE) field's understanding of the public's learning process when engaged in live interactions with scientists and student 'science communicators'; increase the ISE field's understanding of the value of immersive science experiences and impact on students from underserved and underrepresented populations; and to build or extend the capacity of ISE institutions to make connections between polar scientists, students, journalists and the public. The NPP is creative in that it combines the engagement of students in field-based scientific research, live broadcasts from sea to ISE institutions, and the production of a full-scale documentary for public audiences. A potentially transformative component to the ISE activities involves six Minority Serving Institution partners--Florida International University; University of Illinois, Chicago; California State University, Channel Islands; Texas State University; Virginia Commonwealth University and City College of New York--whose students will have the opportunity for a life-changing experience that may tip the scale toward their interest in STEM careers. Each of these students will develop news stories, host screenings of the film at their respective campuses, and share their experiences with peers, providing visual role models for other underrepresented students, who may never have thought themselves capable of becoming a scientist or science communicator. An additional project goal is to enhance the capacity and infrastructure of the three ISE partner institutions so that they may receive live broadcasts from the Inner Space Center in the future, beyond the funding period of the project. People, Places & Design Research will conduct the project's front-end and formative evaluation; MEM & Associates will conduct the summative evaluation. Some of the key evaluation questions will be: * Have ISE and MSI institution public visitors, who view either the live broadcasts or the documentary film (or both), become more aware of the changing Arctic ecosystem and the importance of scientific research in the Arctic? * What is the relative impact of the live broadcasts compared to the finished documentary, and the strengths and weakness of the respective media in translating the on-board experience? * Does a real environmental and social context for scientific evidence stimulate audiences to become more interested in the role of science/STEM? * Have students gained leadership skills and the ability to communicate science to their peers? * Have students increased their motivation and interest in pursuing STEM careers? This project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) 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.


Funding Program: AISL, Polar Special Initiatives
Award Number: 1608810
Funding Amount: $1,702,772.00


  • Gail Scowcroft
    Principal Investigator
    University of Rhode Island
  • David Clark
    Co-Principal Investigator
    David Clark Inc.
  • Brice Loose
    Co-Principal Investigator
    University of Rhode Island
  • Dwight Coleman
    Co-Principal Investigator
    University of Rhode Island
  • Discipline: Ecology, forestry, and agriculture | Nature of science
    Audience: General Public | Museum/ISE Professionals | Scientists | Undergraduate/Graduate Students | Youth/Teen (up to 17)
    Environment Type: Media and Technology | Broadcast Media | Websites, Mobile Apps, and Online Media | Public Programs | Museum and Science Center Programs

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