Staying in Science: Examining the Pathways of Underrepresented Youth in Mentored Research

New York City High School students at lab table with DNA samples testing in an American Museum of Natural History classroom.
Preliminary Findings Report: Supports and Challenges during Educational Crisis: Examining the Impact of the Pandemic on Youth Pathways. We have published our mid-project report on preliminary findings on our NSF-funded Rapid grant, a study designed to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our college student participants, all graduates of the New York City Science Research Mentoring Consortium (NYCSRMC), a consortium of 23 programs that provides science research mentoring to high school youth who are both high potential and historically underrepresented in STEM. Highlights of these findings include that nearly 50% of the students in the study report that their academic trajectory has been greatly or moderately affected by the pandemic, with concerns around “remote learning” were mentioned most frequently among students who reported the greatest amount of impact from COVID-19. In this report, we detail preliminary findings related to the challenges students are facing and the critical supports and resources they are drawing on to help counteract the repercussions of the pandemic upon their trajectories. Implications for students, faculty, families, out-of-school-time program designers, and mentors are discussed. Click here to download our report!

About the Staying in Science: Examining the Pathways of Underrepresented Youth in Mentored Research Study

Thanks to generous funding from the National Science Foundation (grant # 1561637), the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), in partnership with SRI International (SRI), launched a longitudinal study in 2016 examining the experiences of 733 high-interest, academically successful high school youth, from backgrounds historically marginalized in STEM, as they participated in an out-of-school (OST), science research mentoring program through the New York City Science Research Mentoring Consortium (NYCSRMC). The NYCSRMC is a partnership among 24 academic, research, and cultural institutions across NYC who share the goal of engaging youth in authentic STEM research experiences alongside scientists. The study examined relationships among and changes in youths’ participation in the communities of practice associated with sustained, mentored OST science research experiences; youths’ STEM social networks; and youths’ academic achievement, to identify variations in youths’ pathways and supports and outcomes related to persistence with STEM.

Our study stands out in several ways:

  • the focus on the impact of OST learning
  • dataset size
  • the inclusion of a large public school dataset
  • the development and testing of innovative survey instrumentation focused on STEM pathways
  • the integration of social network data
  • and the inclusion of youth as co-researchers

This study is informed by a learning ecology framework (Bronfenbrenner, 1977) enabling us to examine key aspects of youths’ academic, social, and interpersonal development during and after participation in a science community of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991). This framework provides us with an understanding of the critical role that adults and peers can play in supporting youths’ interest and persistence in STEM (Darling-Hammond, Flook, Cook-Harvey, Barron, and Osher, 2020) and how youths’ interest and competency in STEM learning are supported within and across multiple contexts and at key transition points in youths’ pursuit of a college degree and career (Barron, Martin, Takeuchi, and Fithian, 2009).

These students represent the population at the center of concerns about equitable science participation (National Research Council, 2016); we see them as holding the potential for building a more diverse and equitable STEM workforce. They are passionate about STEM, do well academically, and have a record of prior achievement in STEM. They are from groups who have been historically underserved and marginalized in STEM; 76% identify as people of color. Almost half (46%) are from families with one or more parents born outside the U.S. and over a third are first generation to enter colleges (39%). More than half are multilingual (52%), communicating with their families in languages other than or in addition to English.


In addition to the findings described below, we received an additional grant from the National Science Foundation (grant #2033515) to study the ways that the pandemic is impacting the academic trajectories of our study participants.

Participation in Supportive Communities of Practice. Findings reveal that key features of the science programs involve relational and personal elements of participating in a community of practice. Over 90% of youth report they are making valuable contributions to the scientific community and have a strong sense of belonging and connectedness to program mentors and peers. Youth also report opportunities to learn science practices while engaging in authentic research at statistically significant higher rates at their research sites than their schools. These program features equip youth to successfully engage in STEM coursework and research internships. Additionally, 90% of youth report with high frequency that they can imagine someone of their background doing the work of scientists and enter college maintaining this mindset, the reverse of stereotype threat conditions.

OST Mentored Research Shows a Positive Relationship to School Academics. Using the large-scale administrative dataset, our analysis of the comparison group shows that participating in the mentoring program is positively related to students’ course taking and school attendance—two important key factors in academic success across the board and within subject areas. Youth who have completed the NYCSRMC program attempted and passed more credits in science and mathematics and have increased school attendance rates.

High STEM Persistence in Early Years of College. Seventy-five percent of participants intend to major in STEM. Our analysis of social networks surfaced a set of relational features of persistence that may be especially critical for youth, specifically adults and peers who serve as mentors, role models, cultural brokers, and supports during the transition from high school to college. While youth regularly reported concerns about obstacles in their academic and personal experiences, they also felt they had the necessary support to be successful.

Summary. The project has generated crucial insights that inform education and workforce development initiatives of how to support youth from historically marginalized populations to develop STEM social networks and key practices that provide the experiences, supports, and vision for successful pursuits in STEM as they enter college. Informal science learning organizations can use the findings to reflect on and refine key features of program design. This study has provided novel evidence to overcome a key challenge that STEM fields face: retention of the most talented, interested, and creative people who can provide the diversity of perspectives and experiences the field clearly needs to continue to be generative, innovative, and inclusive.

Supports and Challenges during Educational Crisis: Examining the Impact of the Pandemic on Youth Pathways

Attending the NARST 2021 Annual International Conference? Join us for a Q&A session at NARST on Saturday, April 10, 9:45-10:45 a.m. We will be discussing preliminary findings from our research on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student pathways and answering your questions!

Not able to attend? Watch the following video to learn more about the research study and our findings.

For additional Articles and Presentations about the Staying in Science Research Study click here


For more information about Staying in Science, please contact any of the PIs or our research fellow:

Preeti Gupta, Ph.D.
Director of Youth Learning and Research
American Museum of Natural History
[email protected]
Rachel Chaffee, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
American Museum of Natural History
[email protected]
Karen Hammerness, Ph.D.
Director of Educational Research and Evaluation
American Museum of Natural History
[email protected]
Tim Podkul, Ph.D
Senior Research Scientist
SRI International Center for Technology in Learning
[email protected]