FUSE Studios: A New, Interest-Driven Model for Engaging Youth In STEM and Career Development Through Challenges and Partnership with Industry

Project: Research project

Project Details


This Strategies proposal responds to the growing consensus that our formal science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education practices are failing to engage the interests of today’s young people in meaningful ways and are also failing to set them on sustained pathways toward STEM-related activity in future work. We believe that we must more accessible and engaging forms of participation in STEM activities – in other words, better on-ramps into STEM. The goal of this project is a sustainable solution for better engaging teens in a cross-disciplinary set of STEM activities in more youth-accessible venues, in ways that leverage their existing interests, and help them develop new ones—and to do this in ways that project long pathways into accomplished participation in socially and economically meaningful STEM activities. This project leverages an alternative architecture for the organization of learning pathways that leaves behind the ways that current STEM education systems of teaching, testing, and curricula discourage interest, foster maladaptive motivational patterns, and sort young people out of STEM. Building on substantive pilot work, this project explores the potential benefits of developing a set of youth interest-driven challenge sequences informed by authentic STEM occupations and practices. We have enlisted partnership commitments from eight STEM cognate organizations – business both large and small, non-profits, and university research labs. Working collaboratively with these partners, our project seeks to: 1) engage every young person who enters our program spaces in at least one challenge of interest to them, 2) to position each next challenge within their reach, 3) to build challenge sequences in ways that allow capacities developed in prior challenges to be put to use and expanded upon in subsequent challenges, and 4) introduce teens to a set of industry-linked challenges that broaden their perspectives about what counts as STEM and provide them more clearly marked pathways toward deepening interest, progressing expertise, and exposure to possible career trajectories in STEM. Intellectual Merit. This project proposes a new model of interest-driven learning that is specifically focused on STEM (and STEAM) practices, building on research about how the participation and incentive structures of video game play can promote learning and sustained participation in challenging STEM activities. In this study we examine whether and how engagement with these industry/academic-themed challenge sequences impacts participants’ STEM career interests and the widely-recognized dispositional qualities of innovation, adaptive flexibility, and persistence in the face of difficulty--qualities that are not routinely cultivated in traditional STEM education especially among girls and other underrepresented populations in STEM. This project would also test a constellation of practices for incentivizing youth participation, engagement, and persistence in STEM challenges co-developed with industry partners. By methodically exploring a range of industry engagement strategies, this project also seeks to develop a richer toolbox of such strategies and a deeper evidence base of which ones work well – and why – for different types of industry partners. Broader Impacts. If we are to connect a broader and more diverse segment of our young people with the intellectual, creative, and cultural practices needed by our current and future STEM workforce, we need a new model for engaging with STEM partners in both industry and academia.
Effective start/end date9/1/148/31/18


  • National Science Foundation (DRL-1433724)


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