Beyond the Classroom: The Impact of Informal STEM Experiences on Student Attitudes and Interest

A lack of social capital can be a critical factor impeding underrepresented minority (URM) students from obtaining the mathematical and scientific background required to achieve educational and career success in STEM fields. In this study, the effects of generating and utilizing social capital within an informal STEM outreach summer camp are examined as resources in strengthening the academic pipeline for Hispanic students towards careers in STEM. Empirical studies have shown that economically disadvantaged and minority students experience larger learning losses during “unschooled” periods of time than their middle-class and White counterparts. The “faucet theory” explains how the achievement gap widens during unschooled periods of time when the resource faucet is turned off and families of students from disadvantaged backgrounds are unable to make up for these resources. Consequently, minority and students of disadvantaged backgrounds are quickly shortcircuited in taking advantage of opportunities to pursue careers in STEM fields. To address the research questions, this study employed a qualitative research design, specifically an instrumental case study design using mixed methods within a bounded program. The methods included multiple measures to collect and analyze data from focus group interviews, electronic documents, observations, and survey administrations. The sample population included forty-nine Hispanic 7th and 8th grade students from middle schools in San Diego County. Results of the study demonstrated that the informal STEM outreach summer camp positively impacted Hispanic students and increased interest and attitudes toward STEM choices. STEM programs offered during out-of-school time need to be relationship based to support young students’ social and emotional development (Goldstein, Lee, & Chung, 2010). The resource faucet continued to flow during the summer for iQUEST science camp participants because they were able to tap into social capital in the surrounding community. More specifically, participants were able to generate social capital in two key forms of institutional support: “funds of knowledge” and “emotional and moral support”.