Journal of Science Education and Technology

, Volume 25, Issue 6, pp 947–960 | Cite as

Motivating Young Native American Students to Pursue STEM Learning Through a Culturally Relevant Science Program



Data indicate that females and ethnic/race minority groups are underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce calling for innovative strategies to engage and retain them in science education and careers. This study reports on the development, delivery, and outcomes of a culturally driven science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) program, iSTEM, aimed at increasing engagement in STEM learning among Native American 3rd–8th grade students. A culturally relevant theoretical framework, Funds of Knowledge, informs the iSTEM program, a program based on the contention that the synergistic effect of a hybrid program combining two strategic approaches (1) in-school mentoring and (2) out-of-school informal science education experiences would foster engagement and interest in STEM learning. Students are paired with one of three types of mentors: Native American community members, university students, and STEM professionals. The iSTEM program is theme based with all program activities specifically relevant to Native people living in southern Arizona. Student mentees and mentors complete interactive flash STEM activities at lunch hour and attend approximately six field trips per year. Data from the iSTEM program indicate that the program has been successful in engaging Native American students in iSTEM as well as increasing their interest in STEM and their science beliefs.


STEM learning K-12 Native American Funds of Knowledge Mentoring Informal science 



The authors wish to thank the work of the iSTEM project staff including collaborators at StrengthBuilding Partners, the participating K-12 schools, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and the iSTEM project participants.


Support for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation award number DRL-1139317. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding entity.

Human Subject Research

This study was approved by the University of Arizona Human Subjects Internal Review Board.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors report having no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Southwest Institute for Research on WomenUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Evaluation Research and DevelopmentUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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