Mentorship in Informal STEM Programs

All Together Now: The Role of Mentorship in Persistence in Informal STEM Programs

This three-year project investigates how out-of-school learning programs can broaden participation by building social capital in STEM for youth from underrepresented groups and is funded by NSF’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning Research program.

The project integrates social network analysis with research on informal learning, and draws on the connected learning framework for how to connect learning across settings. 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. Two research questions guide this study: (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 method 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.

By examining the link between social capital and informal STEM programs, this project will help launch a new line of research on how to broaden participation in STEM through relational supports. The project will offer an in-depth look at the specific supports that informal programs can offer within a broader ecosystem of supports in a region, with a focus on culturally relevant supports for Latino youth. Building on these findings, the project will produce broader design strategies and guidelines that will generalize beyond the specific region and populations. Because of the focus on mentorship, project-based and interest-driven learning, this study will highlight the unique value that informal and project-based STEM programs can bring to a broader ecosystem of STEM offerings and supports that connect youth to STEM fields.

Project Lead: Mimi Ito