The State University of New York (SUNY) and the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) are collaborating to implement the SUNY/NYAS STEM Mentoring Program, a full scale development project designed to improve the science and math literacy of middle school youth. Building upon lessons learned through the implementation of national initiatives such as NSF's Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) Program, university initiatives such as the UTeach model, and locally-run programs, this project's goals are to: 1) increase access to high quality, hands-on STEM programs in informal environments, 2) improve teaching and outreach skills of scientists in training (graduate and postdoctoral fellows), and 3) test hypotheses around scalable program elements. Together, SUNY and NYAS propose to carry out a comprehensive, systemic science education initiative to recruit graduate students and postdoctoral fellows studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines at colleges and universities statewide to serve as mentors in afterschool programs. SUNY campuses will partner with a community-based organization (CBO) to place mentors in afterschool programs serving middle school students in high-need, low-resource urban and rural communities.
Project deliverables include a three-credit online graduate course for mentor training, six pilot sites, a best practices guide, and a model for national dissemination. The online course will prepare graduate and postdoctoral fellows to spend 12-15 weeks in afterschool programs, introducing students to life science, earth science, mathematics and engineering using curriculum modules that are aligned with the New York State standards. The project design includes three pre-selected sites (College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering at the University of Albany, SUNY Institute of Technology, and SUNY Downstate Medical Center) and three future sites to be selected through a competitive process, each of which will be paired with a CBO to create a locally designed STEM mentoring program. As a result, a minimum of 192 mentors will provide informal STEM education to 2,880 middle school students throughout New York State.
The comprehensive, mixed-methods evaluation will address the following questions:
1) Does student participation in an afterschool model of informal education lead to an increase in STEM content knowledge, attitudes, self-efficacy, and interest in pursuing further STEM education and career pathways? 2) Do young scientists who participate in the program develop effective teaching and mentoring skills, and develop interest in teaching or mentoring career options that result in STEM retention? 3) What are the attributes of an effective STEM afterschool program and the elements of local adaptation and innovation that are necessary to achieve a successful scale-up to geographically diverse locations? 4) What is the role of the afterschool model in delivering informal STEM education?
This innovative model includes a commitment to scale across the 64 SUNY campuses and 122 Councils of the Girl Scouts of the USA, use an online platform to deliver training, and place scientists-in-training in informal learning environments. It is hypothesized that as a result of greater access to STEM education in an informal setting, participating middle school youth will develop increased levels of STEM content knowledge, self-efficacy, confidence in STEM learning, and interest in STEM careers. Scientist mentors will: 1) gain an understanding of the context and characteristics of informal science education, 2) develop skills in mentoring and interpersonal communication, 3) learn and apply best practices of inquiry instruction, and 4) potentially develop interest in teaching as a viable career option. It is anticipated that the project will add to the research literature in several areas such as the effectiveness of incentives for graduate students; the design of mentor support systems; and the structure of pilot site programs in local communities. Findings and materials from this project will be disseminated through presentations at local, regional, and national conferences, publications in peer-reviewed journals focused on informal science education, and briefings sent to more than 25,000 NYAS members around the world.