Connecting Cultures: Engaging Latinos in Informal Science Education

Connecting Cultures Splash

March 28th, 2011


The Latino population is one of the fastest growing in the U.S., but one of the most critical challenges facing educators is how to engage this audience in informal science education. Environment for the Americas (EFTA), in partnership with the National Park Service and Colorado State University, (DRL-0840233) is working to identify the barriers to Latino participation and to provide the tools educators need to better connect with this audience.

To accomplish these goals, EFTA surveyed 1,000 Latino community members at six sites across the U.S. Business owners, parents, teachers, and other adults 18 years and up provided details about their home countries, their family size, income, ability to pay for programs, and much more. Among the findings from the surveys is that respondents expressed a very high interest in nature-based, informal science education programs and placed a high value on education programs about the environment. However, the surveys also revealed that most of these respondents were unaware of the programs available at our national parks, refuges, and other natural areas.

In 2010, EFTA began working at each study site to improve Latino participation in ISE. Using the information gathered in face-to-face surveys, EFTA implemented changes in events and programs. Efforts included making personal contacts within Latino communities, providing bilingual outreach materials via radio, newspaper, and social media and more. At Barr Lake State Park in Colorado, Latino participation in an annual bird festival rose from 7.8% in 2009 to 20.5% in 2010, and 24% in 2011. At Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, a similar event drew only 4.8% Latino participation in 2009, but increased to 30.1% in 2010.

The issues surrounding Latino participation in ISE and STEM careers are complex. EFTA’s data analysis reveals that language, number of generations in the United States, and other factors influence decisions Latinos make about visiting and participating in programs at natural areas. It is clear, however, that while Latino participation in ISE is low,interest is high. A divide exists between Latino interest in STEM and ISE and educator ability to increase awareness of their programs in Latino communities and to create and distribute materials that will address the needs of this diverse audience.

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Acknowledgements: Project partners include the National Park Service Park Flight Migratory Bird Program and Colorado State University. Study site partners are Fire Island National Seashore, North Cascades National Park, Golden Gate National Recreation Area/Point Reyes National Seashore, Bandelier National Monument, New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail Route, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Big Thicket National Park, Big Cypress National Park, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, Point Reyes Bird Observatory, Barr Lake State Park, Barn Beach Reserve, and New Jersey Audubon. The project is supported by the National Science Foundation.

Video and Photos by Susan Bonfield and Natasha Kerr