Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education is a priority for the nation, as the world we live in becomes increasingly technology-driven, and industry and economy increasingly dependent on a STEM-proficient general public and a STEM-ready workforce. To meet these needs and better prepare our diverse youth, a proliferation of STEM education interventions and programs have emerged. There have been countless efforts, ranging from small programs to whole-school to district- and state-wide initiatives, to improve STEM education, and a resulting large and growing volume of research on what is effective. However, the learnings from this evidence currently do not make it into the hands of practitioners or stakeholders in a systematic or timely way.

The STEM Genome, an initiative of The Impact Genome Project (IGP)®, seeks to address this problem. The STEM Genome examines a large body of research and evaluations on STEM education interventions, systematically codifying the information into frameworks that translate across program types, varying outcomes, and diverse stakeholders.

Components of Success Along the STEM Pipeline

The IGP identified three primary outcomes that fall under the work of STEM education: STEM Interest, STEM Proficiency, and STEM Persistence. The outcomes are connected, and can be viewed as a progression in which each must be met in order to move towards the larger task of increasing the STEM workforce. The IGP focuses in on the outcomes individually, providing data and insights on how to achieve success at each point along the pipeline.

IGP meta-analysis revealed a set of program features, or ‘genes,’ most closely linked to success for each of the outcomes—’high performance’ genes. Programs, or funders sponsoring programs, should consider focusing on these core components in order to achieve outcomes.

STEM Interest interventions aim to increase interest and/or engagement in STEM or STEM-related activities and education. STEM has often traditionally been perceived as highly technical, exclusive, and siloed; the data for this outcome suggest that core components related to broadening this image—such as through new or creative ways of engaging students, a focus on transferrable skills, or incorporating concepts from across STEM disciplines—produce better outcomes. High performing genes are:

  • Implement non-traditional student integration in program setting  [1]
  • Integrate multiple STEM concepts into program activities; and
  • Cultivate critical thinking/problem-solving skills.

STEM Proficiency interventions focus on the attainment or improvement of STEM skills, content knowledge, practices, and behaviors. High performing STEM Proficiency genes underscore the importance of showing the applications of STEM content, student engagement in and reflection on their learning, and opportunities for program facilitators to collaborate with peers. Funders and programs targeting STEM proficiency should carefully consider these high-performing genes to determine the ones that best integrate with their values and targets within STEM. The specific genes that showed the strongest relationships to STEM Proficiency outcomes are:

  • Encourage teacher-focused program collaboration;
  • Utilize arts media (photography, video, etc.) in program activities;
  • Utilize an explicit lab-based program plan/activity;
  • Cultivate STEM career/research opportunities;
  • Cultivate student self-reflection/self-evaluation; and
  • Cultivate heightened student engagement in program activities.

STEM Persistence interventions focus on supporting students to continue in STEM or STEM-related education and/or careers—the final step in the STEM pipeline. IGP analyses identified one gene with a particularly strong and robust relationship:

  • Utilize mentoring on behalf of learning.

This finding sends a clear message to programs and funders about the importance of fostering human connections in achieving persistence in STEM education and careers.

In addition to these high performing genes, IGP analysis revealed clusters of ‘high potential’ genes that show promise, but lack sufficient data points in the evidence base to be considered high performers; these genes are detailed, for each outcome, in the full report.

Making the STEM Genome Work for You

These findings, while preliminary, represent a major step forward in capitalizing on the collective knowledge of the field. With them, STEM educators and funders can begin to visualize not only what successful STEM programs as a whole look like, but what the important strategies—strategies that they themselves can learn from and implement—for achieving specific STEM education outcomes look like. This can inform program design, iteration, and improvement, so that all youth are better served and better prepared to achieve success in STEM.

How you can use the STEM Genome:

  1. Sign your program or grantees up to use the STEM Genome survey. This tool helps users align to the frameworks, capture program strategy and impact data, and understand their work in the context of other STEM programs through efficacy and cost-per-outcome benchmarks.
  2. Explore the STEM Education evidence base to find research that is relevant to you. Research and evaluations are tagged by outcome, program features, and characteristics of beneficiaries and program contexts to make it easy to identify meaningful and useful studies and understand how their interventions work.
  3. Join our STEM Genome consortium. The STEM Genome relies on the expertise and input of stakeholders in all areas of STEM education—researchers, policymakers, educators and practitioners, funders, industry experts, and more.

With the foundational structure of the STEM Genome in place, the IGP will continue to expand and analyze the evidence base, refining the conclusions that can be drawn from the taxonomies, and examining how genes function with particular students and in specific settings. The IGP also incorporates data from those operating STEM programs through its reporting and self-evaluation tool; this information will be investigated alongside data from research and formal evaluations to ensure that the bridge between research and practice flows both ways, making use of knowledge from all areas of the field.

  • Note that genes are phrased to indicate program actions, for example “Programs utilize peer-based strategies.”