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Outdoor Recreation: Connecting Rural Youth with STEM Careers

A person in gear working in a tree outside

Joe Klementovich/The Conservation Fund

Project Name
Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Pathways for Rural Youth: Developing STEM Identity Through the Outdoors

Project Description

For some rural communities, the outdoor recreation ecosystem is an integral part of the STEM learning ecosystem that connects rural youth with STEM and STEM career pathways. Landowners and forest managers construct and fly drones to inventory, map, and monitor resources. Hatcheries monitor fish levels and sustain populations for recreational fisheries. Backcountry skiers depend on snow science and avalanche forecasts to assess conditions. Outdoor recreation that youth in rural communities are currently engaging in can be sources of opportunities and experiences for cultivating their STEM identities and career aspirations.

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Calling all outdoor industry leaders, educators, and those who work or are engaged with the outdoor economy! Let's share strategies for developing the outdoor workforce of tomorrow by creating an inclusive and engaging Outdoor Recreation CTE pathway.

Learn more about ACTE's CareerTech VISION Conference

Existing studies have shown the promise of specific, one-time interventions and discrete activities, however, none have situated activities in a broader ecosystem framework comprising a nascent and growing economic sector that is currently shaping rural communities.

This study is investigating the contributions of youth's (grades 7-12) participation in (or aversion to) outdoor recreation on their developing STEM identities and considerations of careers in STEM. Researchers will address three questions: 

  1. How can outdoor recreation be used as an informal STEM learning context to broaden participation for underrepresented rural youth who face known barriers to the traditional learning experiences necessary for developing positive STEM identities? 
  2. How can outdoor recreation be used to increase the STEM career pathways for underrepresented rural youth? 
  3. How do people in different positions in the STEM ecosystem view STEM as part of the future OR economy?

Investigators will employ experience sampling to involve 30 youth and 10 adults in rural communities in collecting their moments of engaging in outdoor recreation, and photovoice to encourage them to examine and reflect on these moments. Another group of 20 youth and 30 adults from the community will be interviewed to consider how members of the community perceive the viability of outdoor recreation as a part of future STEM career pathways. Researchers will use the UDL framework to design all materials and activities that are accessible to all participants and ensure that all voices are heard and valued.


August 2022 – November 2023


National Science Foundation's Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program


University of New Hampshire

Project Leadership

Amanda Bastoni, Principal Investigator (PI), CAST
Sam Johnston, Co-PI, CAST
Andrew Coppens, Co-PI, UNH
Jayson Seaman, Co-PI, UNH
Janet Gronneberg, Director of Strategic Advancement, CAST


For questions about this project, please contact Amanda Bastoni.

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