RAPID: Supports and Challenges in an Educational Crisis: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Youth STEM Pathways

August 1st, 2020 - July 31st, 2021 | PROJECT

Across the country, educators and mentors in informal settings have provided youth with opportunities to persist and thrive along STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) trajectories. Unfortunately, the current COVID-19 pandemic may limit youths' opportunities to continue pursuing STEM pathways by removing their access to important resources, such as mentors in science labs and other STEM learning spaces. The impact of the pandemic may be especially harmful for youth from underrepresented groups whose families have been disproportionately affected by this crisis. The purpose of this project is to study the impact of COVID-19 on the STEM trajectories of teenagers from underrepresented groups who had previously worked with scientists as mentors before the pandemic. A survey, which will be administered to hundreds of teenagers, will identify the supports that they used to successfully navigate disruptions as they continued to pursue college and career pathways in STEM. For teenagers who decided not to actively pursue STEM pathways during the pandemic, this survey will illuminate how loss of supports and new challenges discouraged their active pursuit of STEM. By identifying supports and challenges that encouraged or discouraged STEM pursuits, this project will advance knowledge on how informal learning programs can support underrepresented teenagers in persisting along STEM pathways during national crises and emergencies.

The American Museum of Natural History will conduct mixed-methods research to explore the impact of the pandemic on the STEM trajectories of underrepresented teenagers. They will administer surveys to 560 teenagers from underrepresented groups who previously participated in the New York City Science Research Mentoring Consortium. The survey will ascertain whether and how the youth found access to new supports or lost access to former supports; whether they face new challenges and how they have responded to those challenges; and whether and how their feelings about pursuing STEM in college and beyond have changed. Teenagers who complete the survey will identify adults in their lives who have been important in supporting their pursuits in STEM, and two adults per teenager will also be invited to complete surveys on perceived disruptions. Latent class analyses, cognitive interviews, and consultation with youth and survey experts will be used to establish survey validity, while the survey results will be analyzed via two-mode social network analysis. Additionally, 16 teenagers will participate in in-depth interviews regarding the impact of the pandemic on their STEM trajectories. Findings and implications for practice will be disseminated widely to researchers, educators, and mentors in informal science education. These findings will help stakeholders to provide better supports for underrepresented youth during the current pandemic and during future national emergencies. This project is funded by the Advanced Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program. As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the AISL program 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 RAPID 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.

Project Website(s)

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Team Members

Preeti Gupta, Principal Investigator, American Museum Natural History
Timothy Podkul, Co-Principal Investigator
Karen Hammerness, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2033515
Funding Amount: $199,981


Audience: Adults | Museum | ISE Professionals | Scientists | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: General STEM
Resource Type: Project Descriptions
Environment Type: Museum and Science Center Programs | Public Programs

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This material is supported by National Science Foundation award DRL-2229061, with previous support under DRL-1612739, DRL-1842633, DRL-1212803, and DRL-0638981. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations contained within InformalScience.org are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

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