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Project Descriptions

The Role of Mentorship in Persistence in Informal STEM Programs for Under-represented Youth


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 AISL project investigates how informal programs can broaden participation by building social capital in STEM for youth from underrepresented groups. The project integrates social network analysis with research on informal learning, and draws on a framework to connect learning across a variety of sectors. It builds on evidence that sponsorship of youth interest, affinity-based mentorship, and brokering connections to other settings and opportunities can build social capital and support interest and persistence in STEM. It represents a strategic and timely investment into research that solidifies these emerging insights from research and practice, conducting focused investigation into relational supports for STEM interests that are particularly well suited to informal programs.

The project is guided by two research questions: (1) What forms of social capital are tied to persistence in and connecting across informal STEM programs for youth from underrepresented groups? (2) What program features--specifically sponsorship, mentorship, and brokering--grow these social supports for persistence in and connecting across informal STEM programs for underserved youth? These questions are addressed through a mixed methods 18-month cross-sectional study of 200 students in three informal programs in Orange County, California that offer project-based engineering and coding programs, support mentorship, and focus on groups underrepresented in STEM. The sample will include three age categories, capturing the transition to high school, persistence during high school, and transition to college and career. Teens will be interviewed three times at 6-month intervals, spanning these transitions. The goal of this research and effort is to determine if social capital plays an extra ordinary role in learning by this group.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.


Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 1810923
Funding Amount: $883,902.00


  • Mizuko Ito
    Principal Investigator
    University of California-Irvine
  • Discipline: Computing and information science | Engineering
    Audience: Middle School Children (11-13) | Youth/Teen (up to 17) | Undergraduate/Graduate Students | Museum/ISE Professionals | Learning Researchers
    Environment Type: Public Programs | Making and Tinkering Programs

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