Developing YOUth! Project

Measuring the long-term impact of a STEM-based out-of-school time program


The project will follow three cohorts of adolescent youth for at least five years. Key aspects of the project's design are:

  • Following project participants over a long period of time while using a control group to clarify what change is due to program involvement.
  • Using culturally sensitive research methods and instruments.
  • Focusing on adolescent youth who are at a critical point in their life as they mature from children to adults and prepare for college and/or careers.

Together, these elements will help us understand how out-of-school time programs can impact participation rates of groups that have been historically underrepresented in STEM fields.


The study is designed as a five-year longitudinal study that begins when a program participant is no longer in high school. Each year, we collect data using quantitative measures such as surveys and school performance as well as qualitative measures such as semi-structured interviews and deep immersion ethnographic research. The goal is to follow the participant through their post-secondary experiences and into their first career decisions.

Our data represent real people in real life. As such, our measures need to be culturally responsive and account for a variety of backgrounds, learning and communication styles. We strive for our instruments and frameworks to be culturally validated and sensitive to our specific study populations. Professional and community advisory boards help to identify sources of bias and maintain the study’s validity and relevance.


Identity and Agency

Agency is important for youth development, particularly for young girls and young girls of color who frequently work to make sense of their identity (Brickhouse & Potter, 2001). This process can work in two ways: (1) identity can influence both how girls view themselves and their relationship to science (see Calabrese Barton, et al., 2013), and; (2) also how they view science itself. One of the key advantages of the Science Minors and Achievers programs is how it empowers youth participants. For example, young people have the opportunity to produce a live television show that focuses on science content and is broadcast on a Chicago public access channel. Such activities draw on young people’s strengths and unique backgrounds (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2010) and, as a result, can create a new connection to science (Gonsalves, et al., 2011; Tan, Calabrese Barton & Rivet, 2007).

Positive Youth Development

Positive Youth Development is a field of adolescent development that describes programs and models whose aim is to promote positive youth behavior outcomes and address behavioral issues among all youth (Catalano, et al., 2004; Eccles & Gootman, 2002; Larson, Eccles & Gootman, 2004). Some scholars agree that the one feature most prominent in successful youth programs is the adult-youth relationship (Ibid.). Yet research on adult-youth relationships has tended to focus primarily on parents and/or teachers. Our study takes a special look at the relationship between program staff and youth participants.

Together, these two frameworks have helped inform the design of our project and will be used as lenses to analyze data and interpret results.

Developing YOUth! Project List of References Cited (PDF)