REU: INSPIRE Track 1: Primary School Organizations as Open Systems: Strategic External Relationship Development to Promote Student Engagement in STEM Topics

Project: Research project

Project Details


Our country faces a decline in student engagement, particularly in the STEM disciplines and among underrepresented minority groups. Most often this problem is discussed in the context of an "achievement gap," where racial and socioeconomic groups perform unequally on academic assessments. Yet, to understand what creates the achievement gap, researchers must understand the STEM "opportunity gap" that exists between students from different backgrounds, where these same students achieve differently because of varying exposure to out-of-school enrichment and learning experiences. The STEM opportunity gap arises from the inequity of out-of-school learning experiences for children. Therefore, efforts to engage minorities and women in STEM in primary schools will only succeed if we consider the complex organizational environment in which primary schools operate. The focus of the proposed study is on what interorganizational relationships are necessary for schools to maintain to ensure equitable, efficient, and effective opportunities for students to engage in STEM. External relationships require schools to commit time and resources, and schools must decide which relationships to develop and maintain. Understanding what kinds of relationships particular school types invest in, and what level of effort to commit to maintaining those relationships is important both for improving student engagement opportunities in STEM. Drawing on theory and methods from the disciplines of education and social policy, communication studies, and operations research, the study will explore the following issues: (1) How student engagement in STEM is enabled and constrained by the school's relations with its external community (2) The similarities and differences in partnerships, particularly STEM-related partnerships, across different types of schools in three different urban neighborhoods by mapping networks, and assessing the costs and benefits of creating, maintaining, and dissolving network ties, and (3) How to model school and network decisions, relations, and resources using an operations research framework. The model will prescribe network configurations that address strategic, tactical, and operational concerns, to ensure the school will equitably, efficiently, and effectively utilize partners to improve student engagement in STEM. The study will include 9 schools across 3 neighborhoods in Chicago, IL. In addition to publication in scholarly and practitioner outlets, the results of the study will be shared with school leaders and districts, and will be used to develop new university courses.
Effective start/end date10/1/139/30/18


  • National Science Foundation (DRL-1344266)


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