I Am a Scientist: Moving African American youth beyond participating in STEM activities to committing to a STEM identity

  • Pinckney, Harrison (PI)
  • Boyer, David D.M. (CoPI)
  • Garst, Barry A. (CoPI)
  • Thavarajah, Dilrukshi D. (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Recognizing that race can influence African American youths' perception of which academic disciplines and careers are available to them, this pilot study will explore how African American youths' physical and social communities can be leveraged to support the evolution of their STEM identity and their ability to recognize their potential as scientists. Unfortunately, many of these youths live in communities that are void of critical resources that research has demonstrated time and time again are critical for success in STEM disciplines and careers. This lived reality for many African American youth is the direct result of long-standing disparities in access and opportunities, fueled by racial socialization and biased institutional structures. This pilot will empower youth to recognize these disparities and use science to provide solutions. One perilous societal disparity experienced in many predominately African American communities is the lack of access to fresh produce and healthy food. As a mechanism for potential resolution, this project will consider the utility of community gardens to address this important community need and as a strategy to engage youth in STEM content and skill development. While this notion is not novel to NSF, the intent to utilize an augmented reality (AR) storytelling platform for data collection and project experiences is innovative. This technology will also provide a space for participants to share their work with each other and their broader communities. To our knowledge, this pioneering approach has not been previously piloted in this context. In addition, the pilot will engage multiple youth serving community-based organizations such as park and recreation centers and faith-based organizations in this work, which is also innovative. This is significant, as youth serving community-based organizations are often play important role in the social, educational, and cultural lives of youth and their families in communities. These organizations are often at the heart of the community, figuratively and literally. If successful, this pilot could be transformative and provide a strong basis to support similar work in other communities.

Over the two-year project duration, eighty African American youth ages 11 -14 will participate in the year-long program, across three youth-serving, community-based organizations at four sites. They will be exposed to relevant agricultural, geological, engineering and technological content through a newly developed curriculum called 'Cultivating My Curriculum.' Community mentors and undergraduate role models will facilitate the instruction and hands-on experiences in the garden and with the AR platform. A capstone event will be a held for the participants and community to convene to learn more about the results of the pilot and share recommendations with community leaders for improving the disparities identified during the pilot. The research component will focus on: (a) the impact of the sociocultural theoretical framework grounding the work on youths' STEM identities, (b) the integration of the AR tool, and (c) mentorship. Formative and summative evaluation will take place through focus groups, surveys, journals, and youth storytelling. Ultimately, the project endeavors to advance the narrative that African Americans are scientists and that science can be used to improve the lives of African Americans and other groups challenged by structural and racial disparities.

This pilot study is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants.

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.

Effective start/end date9/1/191/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $299,788.00


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