Collaborative Research: Replication of a Community-Engaged Educational Ecosystem Model in Rust Belt Cities

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project aims to serve the national interest by improving educational environments that contribute to strengthening and diversifying the regional STEM workforce. The challenges of building a STEM workforce in shrinking Rust Belt cities are addressed by replicating and examining an effective STEM learning environment that applies and innovates high impact practices. Rust Belt cities refer to areas of the northern and Midwest United States that were once known for steel production and heavy industry. These cities often have high poverty rates and lower educational attainment in STEM, highlighting the need to bridge the divide of communities that can engage in the knowledge economy. This project aims to build STEM attraction and retention by immersing high school and college students in the STEM knowledge, skill, and capacity needs of deindustrialized cities using project-based learning, community engagement, and community development techniques. The Community-Engaged Educational Ecosystem Model (C-EEEM) was first developed and implemented in South Bend, Indiana in the Center for Civic Innovation at the University of Notre Dame. It produced a sustainable network of educational institutions and community stakeholders in delivering a high impact STEM learning environment. This project will replicate and study the C-EEEM in two other cities, Youngstown, Ohio and Erie, Pennsylvania. The ultimate goal of the project is to establish an interconnected network of STEM education initiatives to benefit the regional workforce.

This project seeks to answer questions about the implementation of the C-EEEM in two sites with different community characteristics and types of anchor institutions. The project will also investigate differences in learning and dispositional outcomes in students in these new contexts. Consequently, units of analysis are nested: 1) the learning environment created by the C-EEEM and 2) the individual students. Both levels of examination use structured mixed-methods data collection. For students, the research will explore STEM motivation and persistence in STEM career pathways using theoretical framing derived from Self Determination Theory (SDT), as well as explore and expand on pilot findings regarding place attachment. For the C-EEEM learning environment, researchers will examine the core elements and critical factors specified from the pilot C-EEEM against the development of the new sites, allowing for comparison and assessment of relevance of the C-EEEM specifications in different conditions as well as identification of adaptations for generalizability. Concurrently, researchers will look for differences in student outcomes correlating with model differences. The NSF IUSE: EHR Program supports research and development projects to improve the effectiveness of STEM education for all students. Through the Institutional and Community Transformation track, the program supports efforts to transform and improve STEM education across institutions of higher education and disciplinary communities.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date12/1/2112/31/25


  • National Science Foundation: $500,224.00


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