COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH: Project TRUE (Teens Researching Urban Ecology)

  • Lewis, James J.D. (PI)
  • Tuininga, Amy (CoPI)
  • Clark, J Alan J.A. (CoPI)
  • Munshi-south, Jason J. (CoPI)

Project Details


The nation's job market is creating more STEM jobs than jobs in other fields - a trend predicted to continue for the next 10 years. Although there has been a slight increase in the number of STEM graduates in the US, the percentage of graduates from underrepresented populations remains low. This project will study how a hands-on urban ecology research program can positively impact underrepresented teens and lead them to pursue STEM-related courses and majors in college. Through a partnership between an informal science institution (the Wildlife Conservation Society) and a university (Fordham University), 200 teens from underrepresented backgrounds will conduct urban ecology research at one of four zoos in New York City under the guidance of a university professor, graduate and undergraduate students, and zoo education staff. One of the unique features of the urban ecology program will be a tiered mentorship model, in which university professors mentor graduate urban ecology students, who in turn mentor undergraduate students, and together they mentor high school students from communities underrepresented in STEM fields. Ultimately, this project will identify programmatic strategies and student support methods that can help expand and diversify the STEM workforce. This project 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 research and development project will advance the field of STEM learning by investigating four key programmatic elements that previous studies have suggested increase interest and participation in STEM: 1) Hands-on STEM experience; 2) Awareness of the utility of STEM learning in the world; 3) Exposure to a role model; and 4) Interaction with peers with shared STEM interest. The research will develop survey-based measurement tools and use multivariate analysis to examine the influence of each programmatic element on short- and medium-term STEM-related outcomes over a five-year period. The research will further address questions to understand the impact of these four principles within a real-world context, including the degree to which non-project factors (e.g. parental support, school coursework, etc.) influence the model, thus limiting or enhancing impact. Additionally, the evaluation component of this project will examine the impacts of the tiered mentorship model in greater depth through a formal case study. The research and evaluation will be complementary, with the research looking across cohorts of participants over time, and the evaluation exploring participant experiences in depth.

Effective start/end date1/09/1431/08/20


  • National Science Foundation: $1,218,730.00


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