by Keliann LaConte, National Center for Interactive Learning, Space Science Institute and Jen Jocz, Education Development Center
Through Project BUILD, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) volunteers and public library staff are working together to engage children in grades 2-5 and their families in age-appropriate, technology-rich STEM learning experiences that are based on the Engineering Design Process. Project BUILD focuses on reaching audiences traditionally underserved and underrepresented in STEM. The combination of open-ended, hands-on experimentation; caregiver involvement; and the chance to interact with professional engineers are creating an engaging experience for youth.
Six libraries are partnering with local engineers as part of Project BUILD: High Plains Library District and ASCE North Colorado Branch (Colorado), African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in Florida and ASCE Miami-Dade Branch (Florida), Anchorage Public Library and ASCE Alaska Section (Alaska), Cuyahoga County Public Library and ASCE Cleveland Branch (Ohio), Kanawha County Public Library and ASCE Charleston Branch (West Virginia), and Free Library of Philadelphia and ASCE Philadelphia Section (Pennsylvania).
Despite their many successes, participating library staff describe challenges in attracting their target undeserved audiences to Project BUILD programs. Below are some strategies librarians and the project team employed to help address these challenges.
Strategy 1: Make promotional materials relatable and meaningful to your target audience
- Show pictures of people who look like your target audience on promotional materials. Librarians have used clip art, royalty-free Google images, Wikimedia Commons, or stock photos provided by their county.
- Make promotional messaging relevant to your local community or target audience. The terms “engineering” or “STEM” might not mean much to someone. A phrase like “Clean Up Our World” could. This promotional strategy has the added benefit of helping to show the human side of engineering.
Strategy 2: Take the program on the road
- Underserved audiences often have transportation challenges or are hesitant to attend programs at government institutions, such as a public library.
- Going to your target audience provides the opportunity for engagement and also serves as a promotional opportunity to potentially draw them to additional programming or resources in the future.
Strategy 3: Find community partners – especially those that serve the target audience!
- Team-up and co-host events with other organizations in your community, especially those who provide free events or meals. A few examples could be schools or afterschool programs, your local Parks and Recreation Department, community centers, or places of worship.
- Community partners can also help promote your programs to target audiences.
- Not sure how to find or engage these partners? Visit starnetlibraries.org/resources/community-dialogues to find information and resources related to Community Dialogues, a strategy that Project BUILD libraries and others have used to engage with and learn from the communities they serve.
Strategy 4: Offer flexible ways for people to engage with program materials
- Caregivers may work erratic hours or multiple jobs, making it difficult for them to commit to bringing youth to a scheduled program at a specific time. Consider offering the same program at various times and days of the week.
Project BUILD libraries circulate Family Kits that contain engineering-related activities and materials (e.g., K’NEX kits) that patrons can check-out like they would a book.
Project BUILD activities have also been set-up as Learning Centers in libraries so that patrons can interact with the materials whenever they happen to be in the library.
What strategies have you tried for reaching audiences traditionally underserved and underrepresented in STEM? Post them in the comments!
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number DRL-1657593. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.