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Informal Biodiversity Education Models for Rural and Tribal Youth

September 1, 2023 - August 31, 2028 | Public Programs

Attracting and retaining youth from all sociodemographic backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is a national priority for ensuring equity and diversity in the STEM workforce. Prior research recognizes that a strong science identity increases the likelihood of youth persistence in STEM, and out-of-school STEM experiences are crucial for developing and maintaining science identity. However, access to informal science is limited in rural and Tribal communities. Concurrent with these equity challenges, there is an urgent need to educate youth, families, and communities about processes that impact biodiversity, which are critical for sustaining future populations and the agricultural workforce. Leveraging existing partnerships with eight rural and eight Tribal libraries as community resource centers, the goal of this project is to develop, research, and implement an informal biodiversity educational framework that empowers rural and Tribal youth, youth practitioners, and librarians to (1) become stewards of biodiversity; (2) foster an enhanced sense of science identify and belonging in STEM; and (3) hone analytical and problem-solving skills. Program content will be individually co-developed with each community, engaging 160 total youth ages 11 to 15 for 12-14 weeks. Expected outcomes include enhanced science identity and environmental stewardship among participants and a framework that can be leveraged by rural and Tribal communities across the country to engage youth, families, and practitioners in local scientific research practices.

Three research questions will advance understanding of how and to what extent a co-created biodiversity educational model impacts middle-school-aged youths' sense of environmental stewardship, science identity, problem-solving, and analytical skills: (1) What are the effective strategies to strengthen partnerships between libraries, youth, and their youth leaders and the integration of Indigenous and Western science approaches around biodiversity programming? 2) To what extent does the biodiversity model increase youths' environmental stewardship, science identity, belonging, self-efficacy, and interest? (3) How does practitioner co-creation of youth biodiversity projects increase facilitators' self-efficacy in engaging youth in science practice and problem-solving? Working with librarians, youth leaders, tribal community members, and indigenous advisors, the project will collect data using a combination of interviews, focus groups, observations, and surveys. Findings will be synthesized using a grounded theory approach and broadly shared through continuing conversations with each library (librarian, staff, youth), project staff, and advisors to get feedback and revise the program. In addition to peer-reviewed research outlets, all associated project findings will be shared with a Tribal organizations, and a book-length product will be made available that will serve as a guide for creating opportunities for youth ecological monitoring in other areas.


Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2313972
Funding Amount: $1,200,000.00


  • Bradley Barker
    Principal Investigator
    University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  •   Judy Diamond
    Co-Principal Investigator
    University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Chad Brassil
    Co-Principal Investigator
    University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Michelle Krehbiel
    Co-Principal Investigator
    University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • John Benson
    Co-Principal Investigator
    University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Resource Type: Projects | Project Descriptions
    Discipline: Life science | Nature of science
    Audience: Middle School Children (11-13) | Youth/Teen (up to 17)
    Environment Type: Library Programs
    Access and Inclusion: Indigenous and Tribal Communities | Rural

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