A community-centered model for youth-initiated energy engineering projects

Co-Developing Community Energy Engineering After-School Programming with Latinx Youth

Principal investigator:
Award amount:
$50,000
Originating sponsor:
Spencer Foundation
Grant start date:
June 1, 2020
Grant end date:
August 31, 2021

The challenge:

Latinx communities represent more than 18% of the U.S. population. But the most recent data from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics show that Latinxs account for only 8% of the nation’s science and engineering workforce; this despite two decades of efforts to broaden minority participation in those fields. Opportunities to make science and engineering activities visible, accessible and relevant remains a significant challenge, particularly for Latinx youth from lower-income communities. Among the Phoenix, Arizona communities with whom the research team works, 4th and 8th grade students perform below national averages in math and science, reflecting the shortcomings of decades of national STEM education reform efforts that often focus on delivering basic content while deferring participation with science and engineering in civic- and future-oriented agendas.

The approach:

This project seeks to codesign and test a sustainable, community-centered model for a mixed-age, after-school program that champions youth-initiated community energy engineering, or CEE, projects by engaging Latinx youth in imagining energy futures for themselves and their communities. The inaugural CEE program will recruit 15 middle school and 15 high school participants from two schools serving overlapping low-income Phoenix neighborhoods with a majority of Latinx residents. The program will be facilitated by two STEM teachers with longtime ties to the schools and the community, each knowledgeable about culturally sustaining engineering pedagogy. A group of collaborators from energy-related areas of industry, policy and academia  will support youths’ leadership on CEE projects through mentorship and material resources. The youth groups will meet weekly on their home campuses, with cross-age virtual meetings held monthly. By positioning youth as learners and contributors who confront the energy challenges facing their communities, the research team will employ design-based research to address two questions:
  • How do youth-led, community-centered projects foster productive disciplinary engagement with engineering practices?
  • How do youth-led, community-centered projects foster consequential learning with community members about energy-related outcomes?

Findings and impact:

Funding for this project continues through August 2021.