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Co-designing STEM Education with Communities: Centering History, Heterogeneity, Power, and Place

September 15, 2023 - August 31, 2028 | Public Programs

This project examines the historical and contemporary manifestations and possibilities of a diasporic Black community's aspirations for STEM educational justice in Evanston, Illinois, a racially diverse suburb of Chicago with a longstanding, diverse, and dynamic Black community. Evanston made news with plans to reopen a campus-model community school in its historically Black 5th Ward of the city. The project will work in close partnership with the local school district, the city, as well as Black families and community partners, to support the efforts to design equitable STEM opportunities for the new school and adjoined community center. The project will advance key knowledge in culturally sustaining STEM learning and teaching, through a specific focus on Black diasporic epistemologies, cultural values, and pedagogical design. The project will make near-term impacts on the educational experiences of Black youth in Evanston and beyond the local context. Teaching and learning resources (as well as in-depth case studies of resource use in classrooms and out-of-school-time (OST) contexts) will be freely available for educators and researchers across the nation. The co-design partnership approach that coordinates efforts across the school district including numerous in- and out-of-school stakeholders, will make substantive contributions to the overlapping fields of racial equity, STEM education, and school reform, while providing an example of the significance of community research-practice partnerships as a methodological intervention.

The project will investigate how a research-community-practice partnership (RCPP) model focused on history/ethnography, project co-design, and systems co-design can facilitate more equitable and culturally sustaining STEM learning experiences for Black youth and their families. The RCPP will create tools and processes centering Black community goals and values within in-school and out of school STEM ecologies in Evanston. The project will make empirical and theoretical contributions in multiple areas of scholarship. Analysis of archival and oral histories will make important contributions to the scholarly record on how Black families and communities have understood STEM education as part of their decades long struggle towards equity, economic mobility, and justice. The ethnographic study will advance a robust social scientific understanding of the localized nature of how Black families and communities are actively organizing towards STEM educational justice in local contexts. Methodologically, the family interviews will contribute to novel methods for studies of interplay among culture and child cognition and identity. The systems RCPP work will create new knowledge in institutional theory and organizational change, as well as how educational technologies can support community empowerment. Overall, the project will make important contributions to the study of Black educational histories and futures, and the field of Black Education Studies more broadly.


Funding Program: Discovery Research K-12 (DRK-12); Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2315178
Funding Amount: $4,521,222.00


  • Sepehr Vakil
    Principal Investigator
    Northwestern University
  • Pinkard Nichole 550x310
    Co-Principal Investigator
    Northwestern University
  • kihana ross
    Co-Principal Investigator
    Northwestern University
  • Resource Type: Projects | Project Descriptions
    Discipline: General STEM
    Audience: Educators/Teachers | Families | Youth/Teen (up to 17)
    Environment Type: Community Outreach Programs
    Access and Inclusion: Black/African American Communities

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