Partnerships promote STEM learning for Burundian children

This pilot project draws on cultural strengths to encourage children in Burundian families toward STEM careers.

 Project title 
STEM and Social Capital: Advancing Families through Learning and Doing

 Official grant name 

STEM and Social Capital: Advancing Families through Learning and Doing

 Award amount 

 Grant effective dates 
January 1, 2021December 31, 2023

 Principal investigator(s) 
Eugene Judson

 Direct sponsor 
National Science Foundation

The challenge

Refugee communities in the U.S. are often marginalized when it comes to education. For example, due to emerging language skills and different social norms, school personnel have perceived refugee children as having learning disabilities even when no diagnoses are made. This contributes to refugee students dropping out of school at a rate three times that of White students and twice that of Latinx students. Children with refugee backgrounds, especially those from countries unfamiliar to Americans, can be subject to discrimination and viewed as extreme outsiders at school, where they typically do not have the enclave social support found among minority groups with higher proportions. Among recent arrivals, there can be confusing role reversals as children are quicker to learn English and become surrogate heads of households. Navigating a course from high school to college and on to a career can be daunting for anyone. Resettled people may encounter additional challenges: few role models in the U.S., educators who try to “help” by recommending easier career pathways, unfamiliarity with career possibilities, and inexperience with U.S. college systems. An overarching challenge is to leverage cultural and family strengths that will best support children as they work to determine and attain their career goals.

The approach

“STEM and Social Capital: Advancing Families through Learning and Doing,” or SSCAFLD, is a pilot and feasibility project to broaden participation in STEM by Burundian refugee families in the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan area. Twenty-four families with children ages 12–17 will participate in:

  • STEM career activities facilitated by ASU students and faculty members to excite participants about STEM and its societal career connections
  • The eight-session American Dream Academy program led by Burundian community leaders and focused on college awareness, enabling parents to advocate for their children, and building a bridge to higher education
  • Meetings with STEM professionals, with e-mentoring for older children
  • Field trips to university campuses to interact with faculty and students and learn about college life and STEM pathways
  • Informal STEM learning experiences with other families

The project will create partnerships among multiple schools and centers at ASU with the Burundi-America Association for Humanity and Opportunities.

Findings & impact

SSCAFLD will serve as a model of how to marshal resources to provide STEM learning experiences that bolster representation of families from underrepresented groups. It is funded from January 2021 through December 2023, with most of the activities planned for the 2021–22 school year.

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