Hey there—my name is Tashera, and I’ve served as an external evaluator for dozens of STEM interventions and innovations. I’ve learned that a primary indicator of program success is recruitment of learners to participate in project activities.
Given that this metric is foundational to most evaluations, measurement of this outcome is rarely thought to be a challenge. A simple count of learners enrolled in programming provides information about participants rather easily.
However, this tells a very limited story. As many of us know, a major priority of STEM initiatives is to broaden participation to be more representative of diverse populations—particularly among groups historically marginalized. As such, we must move beyond reporting quantitative metrics as collectives and instead shift towards disaggregation by student demographics.
This critical analytical approach lets us identify where potential disparities exist. And it can help transform evaluation from a passive system of assessment into a mechanism that helps programs reach more equitable outcomes.
Moreover, program implementation efforts must be deliberate. Activities must be intentionally designed to reach and support populations disproportionally underrepresented within STEM. We can aid this process in our role as evaluators. I would even go so far as to argue that it is our responsibility—as stipulated by AEA’s Guiding Principles for Evaluators—to do so.
During assessment, make it a practice to examine whether program efforts are equitable, inclusive, and accessible. If you find that clients are experiencing challenges relating to locating or recruiting diverse students, the following recommendations can be provided during formative feedback:
- Go to the target population: “Traditional” marketing and outreach strategies that have been used time and time again won’t attract the diverse learners you are seeking—otherwise, there wouldn’t be such a critical call for broadened STEM participation today. You can, however, successfully reach these students if you go where they are.
a. Looking for Black, Latino, or female students to partake in your innovative engineering or IT program? Try reaching out to professional campus-based STEM organizations (e.g., National Society of Black Engineers, Black and Latinx Information Science and Technology Support, Women in Science and Engineering).
b. Numerous organizations on college campuses serve the students you are seeking to engage.
- Locate culture-based organizations: the National Pan-Hellenic Council, National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations, National Black Student Union, or Latino Student Council.
- Leverage programs that support priority student groups (e.g., first-generation, low-income, students with disabilities): Higher Education Opportunity Program, Student Support Services, or Office for Students with Disabilities.
2. Cultural responsiveness must be embedded throughout the program’s design.
a. Make sure that implementation approaches—including recruitment—and program materials (e.g., curriculum, marketing and outreach) are culturally responsive, interventions are culturally relevant, and staff are culturally sensitive.
b. Ensure staff diversity at all levels of leadership (e.g., program directors and staff, faculty, mentors).
There is increased likelihood of students’ participation and persistence when they feel they belong, which at minimum encompasses seeing themselves represented across a program’s spectrum.
As an evaluation community, we cannot allow the onus of equitable STEM opportunity to be placed solely on programs or clients. A lens of equity must also be deeply embedded throughout our evaluation approach, including during analyses and recommendations. It is this shift in paradigm—a model of shared accountability—that allows for equitable outcomes to be realized.