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June 19, 2017

Researchers gauge impact of “Maker” job opportunities for underserved teens

3-D print shop helps answer crucial questions about engaging youth in STEM through after-school jobs

Real world problem solving through “Making” is a new and popular way to engage youth in STEM education, frequently in after-school programs. Unfortunately, not all youth are able to participate in after-school activities due to financial pressures and may instead take jobs in non-technical fields, such as food service or retail. These non-technical jobs take time away from Making, designing, and tinkering, which can leave them behind peers who are honing skills for a technical career path.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Amy Hurst and her team at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, partnered with the Digital Harbor Foundation (DHF) to create a living laboratory print shop to study the impact of Maker employment on underserved youth. Teens can now come to the DHF Tech Center in their free time to learn the design and programming skills necessary for 3-D printing. In addition, this is a working print shop that is open for business and taking orders, so the more experienced teens also get work experience in a STEM-related job.

Hurst's team will be tracking the engagement of the teens, measuring how their attitudes towards technical employment, STEM fields and Making change during this experience. One of the goals is develop a new model to keep underserved youth on a pathway towards a STEM career. “We don't know the impact of having this kind of job. So, that's a major question we're hoping to answer with our research. What skills the youth employees are learning through this experience and how this may or may not impact their interest in continuing to do technical work in the future, be it as a job or at a university once they graduate,” explains Hurst. “This research also has implications for other groups of people who would like to be more involved in customization, building and solving their own problems.”

Finding a sustainable business model and reliable clients is also key for the research team and one of their solutions has been to partner with other local organizations involved in 3-D modeling.

The research in this episode is supported by NSF award #1623490, MAKER: Making Opportunities for Baltimore Inner City Youth in a 3-D Print Shop.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Kate Tobin, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.