CLI earns grant to spark girls’ interest in STEM

By Roman Petrowski, Office of Communications

CLI Girls STEM Grant

A new grant for the Children’s Learning Institute will hope to spark girls’ interest in STEM using afterschool programs. (Photo from Adobe Stock)

The Children’s Learning Institute at McGovern Medical School has received a grant focused on sparking young girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) using a hands-on elementary afterschool program.

The grant, “Breaking stereotypes through culturally relevant storytelling: Optimizing out-of-school time STEM experiences for elementary-age girls to strengthen their STEM interest pathways” is funded for nearly $2 million from the National Science Foundation.

To reduce inequities among females who are Latino and African American in STEM fields, the project will build important knowledge about how to support early interest in STEM by exposing girls to STEM role models and fostering a STEM identity. The project focuses on schools where the majority of students are experiencing poverty.

 Gloria Yeomans-Maldonado, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics is the co-principal investigator for the project. She explains, “receiving this funding will provide a space to add a component to a STEM curriculum developed by the Children’s Museum of Houston that will be focusing on young girls and diverse populations and how to promote their STEM-identity while lowering STEM-related stereotypes. At the end of the study we will be able to rigorously assess the impact of this added component when compared to the original curriculum and a business as usual condition.

“A secondary aim of this project is to study the sustainability of this STEM afterschool curriculum. To do so, we plan to train afterschool educators in using the curriculum. By increasing educators’ self-efficacy in delivering the curriculum, we aim to increase sustainability of a high-quality STEM curriculum for afterschool programs.”

The project features partnerships with museum-based STEM educators at the Children’s Museum Houston (CMH) and with experts in ensuring first-generation college students attend 4-year colleges or universities at YES Prep public charter school system. These partners will add storytelling components that highlight females in STEM to an existing afterschool STEM program. The museum educators will support multiple afterschool providers in Houston to offer this enhanced version of the program as well as the basic program to understand which conditions best support girls’ interest in STEM.

In Phase 1 of the four-year project, educators will adapt the curriculum and storytelling variations before recruiting 36 sites and +600 children across K-5 grades. In Phase 2, an experimental study will evaluate the program’s impact on garnering girls’ and boys’ STEM interest and identity while reducing STEM gender stereotypes. In Phase 3, the team will follow participating afterschool educators to understand if their co-facilitation of the program allowed for sustainability after the Museum informal science educator support is withdrawn. The final phase of the project will disseminate findings and resources found to be effective.

Tricia Zucker, PhD, Harriet and Joe Foster Distinguished Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and co-director of the Children’s Learning Institute (CLI) is also co-principal investigator for the new grant.

“This project builds on a long-standing partnership between CLI research and the informal learning experts at our excellent local children’s museum,” Zucker said. “We are thrilled to work with the team at YES Prep as our flagship partner because they are a nationally recognized expert in education reform with a focus on embracing diverse communities and cultures to achieve success for all their students.”