Exploring STEM Impact and Engagement in Student-Led and Purpose-Driven Projects

Lead PI: Cassie Xu

Unit Affiliation: Seismology, Geology and Tectonophysics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

September 2018 - June 2021
North America ; New York City, NY ; New York
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase student motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) through advancing student skills and interest in the area of data science. We live in a data-driven age where data and the skills associated with it are in high demand in STEM fields and beyond. Many students, particularly those from groups under-represented in STEM professions, are given few opportunities to engage with data in a way that connects their lived experiences to scientific practices. This project aims to address this by empowering youth to construct solutions to personally meaningful community challenges using open-source data. By putting youth in a position to identify personally meaningful projects, and anchoring them in a collaborative team of educators, data scientists, industry professionals, and community groups all with the shared aim of solving a problem in their local community, the project supports students in seeing see STEM practices as aligning with their personal identity and values. By positioning students as leads in designing projects that address compelling community challenges, training them to become familiar with data science tools for solutions-oriented learning, and amplifying their voice to share their solutions with key stakeholders, this project provides important insight into the factors and experiences that contribute to student learning and examines how to better use co-designed and shared data-driven experiences to broaden participation and diversify STEM workforces. This two-year collaborative research project will address the lack of diversity in STEM fields by engaging high school aged learners in an after-school club that uses data to identify a compelling local community challenge and to design a potential solution to address the problem. Leveraging the constructionist design paradigm and research on project-based service learning, the project will investigate how framing STEM practices to contribute to and improve one's community might increase student interest in and shift identity towards STEM fields. Rather than create a one-size-fits-all activity that assumes a community problem, the project aims to develop and study design frameworks for creating personally meaningful and learner-centric experiences and activities that can be deployed in a broad range of communities with similar demographics. Year 1 of the project will be devoted to the development of a network of education and industry partners and pilot activity design and evaluation. In year 2, a pilot will be deployed at two locations with eight partnering schools. Research activities will include the evaluation of student learning about the core concepts and practices of data science, students' personal connections with local communities, and students' STEM interests and identities. The project will deepen collaborations between Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Teachers College, the New York City Department of Education's Division on Teaching and Learning, community organizations, school educators, and relevant industry partners.


National Science Foundation (NSF)




Nathan Holbert, Dara Mendeloff, Daniel Bader


Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), Center for Climate Systems Research (CCSR), Teacher's College





DATASETS: Data on impact of project on student learning.


education stem diversity data science open source data environmental science


Sustainable living