STEM Pathways for Rural Youth: Developing STEM Identity Through the Outdoors

August 1st, 2022 - July 31st, 2024 | PROJECT

For some rural communities, the outdoor recreation ecosystem is an integral part of the STEM learning ecosystem that connects rural youth with STEM and STEM career pathways. Landowners and forest managers construct and fly drones to inventory, map, and monitor resources. Hatcheries monitor fish levels and sustain populations for recreational fisheries. Backcountry skiers depend on snow science and avalanche forecasts to assess conditions. Outdoor recreation that youth in rural communities are currently engaging in can be sources of opportunities and experiences for cultivating their STEM identities and career aspirations. Existing studies have shown the promise of specific, one-time interventions and discrete activities, none have situated activities in a broader ecosystem framework comprising a nascent and growing economic sector that is currently shaping rural communities.

This Pilot and Feasibility project brings together CAST, a non-profit education research organization, the University of New Hampshire (UNH), and outdoor-recreation and informal STEM community-based youth-serving organizations in New Hampshire (NH). In particular, this study will investigate the contributions of youth's participation in (or aversion of) outdoor recreation on developing high school aged students' STEM identities and considerations of careers in STEM through outdoor recreation. Researchers seek to address three questions: How can outdoor recreation be used as an informal STEM learning context to broaden participation for underrepresented rural youth who face known barriers to the traditional learning experiences necessary for developing positive STEM identities? How can outdoor recreation be used to increase the STEM career pathways for underrepresented rural youth? How do people in different positions in the STEM ecosystem view STEM as part of the future OR economy? In this qualitative dominant research study, investigators will employ experience sampling to involve 30 youth and 10 adults in rural communities in collecting their moments of engaging in outdoor recreation, and photovoice to encourage them to examine and reflect on these moments. Another group of 20 youth and 30 adults from the community will be interviewed to consider how members of the community perceives viability of outdoor recreation as a part of future STEM career pathways.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Team Members

Amanda Bastoni, Principal Investigator, CAST, Inc.
Sam Catherine Johnston, Co-Principal Investigator
Andrew Coppens, Co-Principal Investigator
Jayson Seaman, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2213919
Funding Amount: $300,000.00


Access and Inclusion: Rural
Audience: Adults | Learning Researchers | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: Ecology | forestry | agriculture
Resource Type: Project Descriptions
Environment Type: Park | Outdoor | Garden Programs | Public Programs