The Making Connections project investigates how to build connections and transitions between out-of-school programs to support coordinated and culturally sustaining STEM ecosystems for underrepresented youth. A young person whose interest in STEM is sparked in a community-based program can struggle to sustain and grow that interest because of lack of coordination between programs and in school and out or school settings. Building on the connected learning framework, this project focuses on identifying and spreading effective strategies to address this problem. 

The Connected Learning Lab is partnering with the STEM Next Opportunity Fund and state and regional out-of-school networks to conduct research and support capacity building. The project offers one-year research grants for state and regional networks to strengthen a strategy for connecting state and regional STEM learning networks in ways centered on the experiences, mobility, and opportunity for youth from communities underrepresented in STEM. This project began in 2021 as part of the Million Girls Moonshot, an effort to support girls’ participation in STEM. The focus has since broadened to include young people from all underrepresented groups across the STEM Next network which engages over 3 million youth nationwide.

Featured Publication

Making Connections to and From Out-of-School Experiences

Maggie Dahn, Kylie Peppler, and Mizuko Ito

Review of Research in Education

May 27, 2024


“Despite the growing recognition that making connections across settings is important for culturally sustaining approaches, the processes of cross-setting connection and coordination are often invisible, implicit, and understudied, particularly in relation to OST”

Open Access

8 Strategies for Making Connections

The first phase of the Making Connections project surfaced eight strategies for making connections across settings across STEM learning networks, classified into three types: coordination, brokering, and networking. These strategies are still being researched and refined with partner networks engaging in systems-level thinking by developing, testing, and improving these strategies. 

Case studies that illustrate each strategy were developed as part of the Phase 1 work with the Million Girls’ Moonshot. They offer a detailed look into exemplary programmatic and organizational practices.

STEM Next also offers a toolkit for educators and network leaders to adopt these strategies.


Strategy 1

Leveraging a wraparound model to address holistic needs to support STEM learning and development


Poconos Services for Families and Children (PSFC): “A One Stop Shop” to Cultivate Community Networks

PSFC demonstrates a wraparound model through a “Cradle through Career” Coordinating Center, a comprehensive resource hub streamlining access to services for youth and families.

[Download Case Study]

Strategy 2

Coordinating between in school and out-of-school settings to cultivate youths’ STEM interests 



Girls Inc.: Connecting STEM Pathways for Girls 

Girls Inc. develops STEM pathways in and out of school for girls from middle school and college and beyond. 

[Download Case Study]



Strategy 3

Giving back to one’s community through STEM/STEAM related activities 



Schools and Home in Education (SHINE): “We Want Them to Give Back to the Community”

SHINE designs service learning experiences that  prioritize connected civic outcomes, aligning youth interests and identities with community needs. 

[Download Case Study]



Strategy 4

A near-peer mentorship model to support transitions to STEM academic and career opportunities through mentorship


The Malone Center and The Career Academy (TCA): Peer Brokering of Opportunities Across Settings

The partnership between TCA and The Malone Center supports an incentivized near-peer mentorship model to support STEM transitions and identity building for high school girls.

[Download Case Study]

Strategy 5

Translating youth interests into STEM career and entrepreneurship opportunities


Sunrise of Philadelphia: Adult Career Guidance and Support

Sunrise of Philadelphia centers programs on caring adults and academic support, offering academic support, and mentorship for planning for college and careers.

[Download Case Study]


Strategy 6

Building relationships with families and youth to get buy-in for pursuing intensive STEM opportunities


Partners at Woodland Forrest: Supporting Participation in Intensive STEM Summer Camp

Partners at Woodland Forrest, affiliated with the University of Alabama  offers a STEM enrichment program to prepare girls and their families for attending a unique and high value opportunity – Space Camp. 

[Download Case Study]



Strategy 7

STEM repository building through the curation of an online tool to link young people to STEM opportunities


Palm Beach County 4-H: An Open Web Resource for STEM Opportunities

In coordination with the Palm Beach County Library, Palm Beach County 4-H is creating a website that helps youth and their families find local STEM opportunities.

[Download Case Study]


Strategy 8

Open portfolios to track STEM learning and progress across settings


Propel Afterschool: Making Progress Visible Across Setting through Open Portfolios

Propel Afterschool curates and develops openly networked portfolios, curated and authored by the youth creators.

[Download Case Study]



Kylie Peppler

Informatics, Education

UC Irvine

Mimi Ito


Connected Learning Lab

UC Irvine

Maggie Dahn

Associate Project Scientist

UC Irvine

Seth Corrigan

Research Associate


UC Irvine

Lora Cawelti

Graduate Student Researcher

UC Irvine

Jenna Abrams

Managing Editor

Connected Learning Lab

UC Irvine

With Support From