The impacts of changes in the climate at local and global levels threaten how people live. Some frontline communities, especially in historically disenfranchised and under-resourced areas, are particularly vulnerable to the devastating effects of climatological events such as wildfires, flooding, and urban heat islands. As such, there is an urgent need for collective, evidence-based understanding and engagement to prevent and prepare for these potentially fatal events. Led by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland, Oregon, in collaboration with local and national partners, Youth Lead the Way is an early-stage Innovations in Development project that offers a theory-based approach for youth in climatologically vulnerable communities to work in climate science research alongside field researchers, develop leadership skills, and engage in timely conversations that impact their own communities. The project will develop and evaluate a Youth Advisory Research Board model to equip and support youth and informal STEM education institutions to conduct evidence-based research on local climate impacts and communicate the findings of their research to their communities. Youth Lead the Way advances the work of several previous NSF-funded projects on climate education, youth advisory boards, and collaborative networks to engage the public in informal STEM learning. Findings from this project will support ongoing efforts in the informal STEM education field to meaningfully engage youth and to more effectively communicate science related to climate and its impacts to the public.
During this initial two-year early-stage project, youth predominantly from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in STEM will engage in a year-long extended STEM experience. These youth will work collaboratively with scientists and museum professionals to enhance their skills as climate researchers, science communicators, and educational leaders, while reaching an estimated 4,000 or more public audience members through research and events at OMSI, in their schools, and in their communities. Using a cohort model, the youth will conduct scientifically based research studies on various local climate impact topics while concurrently serving in an advisory role at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, where they will participate in shaping relevant museum programs and practices. The youth will also develop and present climate stories, a communication approach based on storytelling, to raise public understanding and awareness about local climatological changes and impacts. In addition to the youth component, a companion workshop will be held at the Sciencenter in Ithaca, New York, a partner organization, to train staff and formatively assess the feasibility of scaling the model in other museums. At the program level, an exploratory qualitative research study will be conducted to identify the factors of the overall model that contribute to desired outcomes of youth engagement, climate impact education, and informal science education professional development. Interviews, surveys, focus groups, group chats among youth cohort members, and reviews of artifacts generated by the youth will inform this exploratory study. A theory-based guide outlining key findings, considerations, and recommendations will also be produced. The dissemination of this work will be multi-tiered, reaching thousands within the target communities through public programs, professional networks, at conferences, and a live virtual professional development event hosted by the Association for Science-Technology Centers. If successful, Youth Lead the Way will lay the groundwork for a model that promotes youth and public engagement in STEM through climate science research and identifies promising pathways for future research and similar efforts well beyond this project.
This early-stage Innovations in Development project is funded by the NSF Advancing Informal STEM Learning 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.
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.
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