All Together Now: The Role of Mentorship in Persistence in Informal STEM Programs for Under-represented Youth

August 1st, 2018 - July 30th, 2023 | PROJECT

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.

Project Website(s)

Project Website

Project Products

2019 AISL PI Meeting Poster: ALL TOGETHER NOW: The Role of Mentorship in Persistence in Informal STEM Programs

Team Members

Mizuko Ito, Principal Investigator, University of California-Irvine
Amanda Wortman, Project Manager


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


Audience: Learning Researchers | Middle School Children (11-13) | Museum | ISE Professionals | Undergraduate | Graduate Students | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: Computing and information science | Engineering
Resource Type: Project Descriptions
Environment Type: Making and Tinkering 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 are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

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