Bridging the Gap

Research highlights

  • Nearly 150 high school students took part in at least 60 hours of workshops and mentoring sessions through the Bridging the Gap program. Total participant contact hours were approximately 9,000 hours over the three years.
  • Bridging the Gap fostered students' interest in STEM careers. 69 of 84 students (82%) who participated in an online survey said that they planned on pursuing a STEM career.
  • Data suggest that Bridging the Gap influenced participating students' decisions to continue their education and helped them feel more confident and prepared to do so. As of Spring 2015, 88% of the Bridging the Gap students that were eligible to attend university were either enrolled or preparing to attend university.
  • Data suggest that the program improved participants' knowledge about zoo-related topics and wildlife science careers over the course of the project.

Overview

"Bridging the Gap" was a four-year research study and youth career development program funded by the National Science Foundation's ITEST (Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers) program. The study aimed to create a better understanding of how to increase the number of individuals from underrepresented minorities in STEM fields. The research concluded in May 2015.

Research context

In its 2004 Diversity Trends Report, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) issued a directive to all member institutions addressing the lack of diversity in zoo and aquarium science staffs. Unfortunately, in the years since, not much has changed. Few zoo and aquariums programs have been specifically designed to provide minority students with career guidance in wildlife science fields. Additionally, the success of those that have existed has not been adequately measured. Our research was designed to address this need by investigating the effectiveness of a school-to-career program in increasing the interest of minority high school students in STEM study and careers.

Research question

In what ways and to what extent can a successful school-to-career program model be adapted to help minority students achieve the affective, cognitive, and behavioral outcomes necessary to effectively pursue zoo science careers?

Methods

The research and evaluation of the Bridging the Gap program used a mixed-methods approach, soliciting both qualitative and quantitative data from participants. Data were entered by evaluators into SPSS (v.21) for analysis. The following instruments and data collection methods were used by external evaluators from Hezel Associates to gather data from students and their parents in each cohort.

  • Student Attitudes and Interests Questionnaire: Designed to allow student participants to report their knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors relating to zoo and aquarium careers and education, both before and after the School-to-Career Institute.
  • Parent Questionnaire: Aimed to capture attitudes and knowledge of parents of student participants concerning their children's science education and careers.
  • Activity Quality Questionnaires (School-to-Career Institute; Parent Workshop Career Building Institute; Internship; and Ongoing Assistance): Created to compile students' opinions on the quality of the program's sessions.
  • Long-Term Questionnaire: Designed to reveal impact on students after completing the formal Bridging the Gap program activities, in terms of education choices and career interests.

The following instruments and data collection methods were used by internal researchers at WCS to gather data from students and program mentors at the end of the project.

  • Online survey and open-ended questionnaire: Responses to Likert scale questions were tallied and averaged. The open-ended section was scanned for emergent codes, and then all responses were coded accordingly.
  • Card sorting with accompanying interview for students: The cards selected by the students were tallied according to their selections. Significant segments of the interviews were transcribed. The interviews were coded using Dedoose according to the cards selected.
  • An open-ended questionnaire for program mentors: Responses to the open-ended survey for the mentors were scanned for emergent codes, and then all responses were coded accordingly.

Major findings

Finding #1: Bridging the Gap fostered students' interest in STEM careers.

  • 69 of 84 students (82%) who participated in an online survey said that they planned on pursuing a STEM career.
  • 20 of 29 students (69%) who participated in a card sorting activity stated their intention to go into a STEM field. Twelve students stated their intention to work with zoos, aquariums, or animals.
  • There was no noticeable conversion of any student's intentions from non-STEM fields. The data suggest that BTG does not have as great of a potential in growing STEM interest as it does for fostering pre-existing interest in STEM.

Finding #2: Bridging the Gap stimulated students' exploration of careers in general and provided opportunities for them to consider their professional ambitions and pathways more deeply.

  • As of Spring 2015, 88% of the Bridging the Gap students that were eligible to attend university were either enrolled or preparing to attend university.
  • Data suggest that Bridging the Gap influenced students' decisions to continue their education and helped them feel more confident and prepared to do so.
  • Students' attitudes regarding their prospective college education and zoo careers changed little, but were high before the program began. This is likely due to the fact that students drawn to participate in a program like Bridging the Gap tend to be highly motivated, even though they may have had few if any similar opportunities previously.

Finding #3: Bridging the Gap improved participants' knowledge about zoo-related topics and wildlife science careers over the course of the project.

  • The greatest positive changes were generally found in items related to knowledge of zoo operations and careers. In particular, large increases were seen in understanding what zoo professionals do in their daily work and activities related to specific areas of zoo work, how zoos have changed over time, and how zoos manage captive populations of animals.

Key research staff

  • Karen Tingley, Co-Principal Investigator
  • Dr. Chanda Bennett, Co-Principal Investigator
  • Dr. Brian Johnson
  • Don Lisowy
  • Sarah Stewart (Hezel Associates)
  • Hal Kramer

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1138685.

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