Teen Science Cafes for Advancing STEM in Rural Places

July 1st, 2019 - June 30th, 2021 | 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. In this project, Science Cafe's have emerged over the years as a useful mechanism for exposure of scientific information to the public. More recently, this forum has been successfully used as a communication mechanism for teens. While this mechanism is successful with urban and suburban youth, it has not been efficacious with rural teens. Thus, this project is designed to ferret out the challenges faced by Teen Science Cafe's(TSCs) in rural settings and find ways to surmount them. The long-term goal is to engage a large number of teens who will enter adulthood as citizens with a sophisticated understanding of the science process and who will follow a myriad of pathways into the U.S. STEM workforce. The research will focus on what works, for whom, and where with respect to the key components and outcomes of teen science cafe's in rural areas. 

At the broadest level, the project will strengthen infrastructure and build capacity by producing a national model for bringing OST (out of school time) STEM to rural communities. Over the two project years, approximately 600 unique participants will participate in teen science cafe's that engage their curiosity in STEM, provide leadership opportunities, and make STEM occupations more visible, participatory and approachable for rural teems who often lack access to high quality STEM programs in school. 

Specific goals of the project for rural settings are: (1) To test the feasibility and effectiveness of a national model of professional development centered on an in-person and virtual community of practice for informal STEM educators leading teen science cafe's. (2) Form research-practice partnerships involving the PIs and the leaders of cafe's to: i) identify and document existing local conditions, resources, and challenges and their significance for OST STEM education; ii) work collaboratively with peers and the PIs to systematically test new strategies for engaging rural teens in TSCs; (3) Cultivate a mindset among teens that STEM IS EVERYWHERE. Rural teens are often isolated and the STEM careers in their communities are largely invisible to them. To date, 19 geographically and demographically diverse active teen cafe's sites have committed to the project. The PIs will use a multifaceted approach to characterizing rurality, They will use the established Index of Relative Rurality (IRR) which includes four spatial variables (remoteness, overall population size, density, and proportion of built-up land). The impact of the Cafe's series at each site will be determined via multiple methods, including: (1) pre-post-surveys with teens, employing the measure of STEM attitudes and engagement; (2) detailed blog postings by adult leaders describing the challenges/successes of teen and (3) interviews with leaders to uncover their perceptions of the reasons associated with success of the strategy.

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)

(no project website provided)

Project Products

Through Activating Rural Communities, Rural Teen Science Cafés Spark Interest in STEM

Team Members

Michelle Hall, Principal Investigator, Science Education Solutions Inc
Janice Mokros, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 1906874
Funding Amount: $299,974


Access and Inclusion: Urban
Audience: Learning Researchers | Museum | ISE Professionals | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: General STEM
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Public Events and Festivals | Public Programs