Short Presentations: Strategies Used in INCLUDES Projects and Other Broadening Participation Efforts

Community Engagement for Cradle through Career STEM Learning

Joe Hastings & Kristin Leigh, Explora

Explora is a 501c(3) science center and children’s museum, operating in a public-private partnership with the City of Albuquerque. We serve 325,000 people of all ages a year with STEM exhibits and programs. Explora serves as the backbone organization for STEM-New Mexico (NM), our state’s nationally-designated STEM Learning Ecosystem. One of Explora’s four core values is Community. We work hard to ensure Explora is useful, relevant, and an integral part of the community fabric. We utilize a Listen, Welcome, Co-create community engagement strategy, which involves formal community listening sessions, no-cost community partner memberships, and co-development of programs and initiatives. Explora’s other core values include Learning, Sustainability, and Generosity.

During our last strategic planning process, the leadership team decided we really needed to turn outward and focus in on our community’s aspirations and how Explora can contribute to community change. We used the Harwood Institute approach ( to ask the following questions: What kind of community do you want? What are the most important issues or concerns when it comes to the community? What do you think is keeping us from making the progress we want? What could we try that might make a difference? Who do we trust to take action?

You can’t decide where you are going until you listen to the entire community and hear their interests and concerns. We conducted listening sessions with a variety of local groups, and these aspirations were shared consistently among groups during these listening sessions:

  • an inclusive, accessible community;
  • a child-centered community;
  • a community with abundant educational opportunities;
  • a community with plentiful, high-quality early childhood education;
  • a safe community;
  • a community with less poverty and more jobs; and
  • a community with well-planned neighborhoods.

We welcomed groups to Explora to utilize our space, provide access for families, and build partnerships. Through this, we got to know many of the disability groups in our community. One partnership we developed was with the New Mexico Autism Society (NMAS). With NMAS, we received funding to co-create and iterate on: sensory toolkits, sensory stories and maps, sensory-friendly hours, staff training, and summer camps for children on the autism spectrum. This partnership helped to normalize sensory needs. Signs about sensory resources led to new conversations. Sensory recovery kits were placed on the exhibit floor for potential stressful situations. Selling fidgets in the store increased awareness and access. We also developed sensory-friendly events that allowed for low attendance, a calmer environment, more judgment-free environments, sensory break rooms, additional signage, lower noise and light, and transitional items as kids leave the museum.

Explora also is part of an NSF INCLUDES project, called Math FACESS (Families and Communities Empowering Student Success in Mathematics) that aims to improve students’ attitudes, practices, and achievement in math; improve parents’ attitudes, practices, and confidence in math and increase their utilization of family math resources; improve data-sharing among partners related to math participation and achievement; and create pathways within the STEM-NM Ecosystem for family math learning. This project has four major components:

  • Teachers at two pilot schools participate in professional development related to Math Talk and Listening (Hufferd-Ackles, et al. 2004; Hintz and Tyson, 2015);
  • Parents at the pilot schools participate in parent workshops and community-based activities focused on supporting their children’s math achievement;
  • Project partners implement community-based family activities organized around a theme of 12 Months of Math (12MoM); and
  • Ecosystem partners study what worked and what didn’t, in order to identify best practices that can be shared with system leaders to scale effective practices and increase impact.

NSF Alliances for Students with Disabilities in STEM

Overtoun Jenda & Brittany McCoullough, Auburn University

Our first alliance for students with disabilities in STEM started in 2009 as part of NSF’s Research in Disabilities Education program (RDE). The Alabama Alliance for Students with Disabilities in STEM focused on increasing the number of degrees and overall success being achieved by students with disabilities at five institutions in East-Central Alabama. In 2016 we were awarded funding for our current NSF INCLUDES Pilot Project, South East Alliance for Persons with Disabilities in STEM, which brings together 21 institutions throughout the southeastern US. In this project, some institutions hosted pilot sites, while others hosted workshops or training opportunities. We are hoping to expand this project to be a national program in an upcoming INCLUDES proposal titled The Alliance for Persons with Disabilities in STEM that will involve 37 institutions from across the country.

In our NSF projects, we have successfully utilized a variety of interventions: peer and faculty mentoring, small student cluster groups, monthly group meetings, research internships and presentations, and annual conferences. We also hosted two academies funded by government partnerships, one for blind/visually impaired high school students, and one for deaf/hard-of-hearing high school students. We have had over 250 students participate to date. Our participants have received 121 bachelor’s degrees, 15 masters, and 2 doctoral degrees. Graduate school entrance rates were higher than the overall student population. Participants had increased self-efficacy and persistence in STEM, increased self-advocacy behaviors, and successful creation of a supportive academic and social network.

Visit to learn more or partner on this project.

Introducing the Environmental Data Science Inclusion Network

Alycia Crall, Battelle

There has been a growth of large ecological data sets and environmental synthesis projects. Analyses of these datasets and policies driven by those analyses may have profound environmental and societal implications. We want to bring together the practitioners, researchers, educators, evaluators and employers to work towards a more inclusive field to ensure the field reflects the diversity of the communities it serves. Our NSF INCLUDES conference Bringing Conversations on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Data Science to the Environmental Sciences will begin this conversation.

Our conference will feature an opening panel to discuss inclusion, with Gina Helfrich from the Numerical Foundation for Open Code and Useable Science (NumFOCUS), Cedric Chambers from Jobs for Underrepresented and Minority Professionals (JUMP) Recruits, Kaitlin Stack Whitney from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Clyde Cristman from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Dennis Dye from the Bureau of Indian Education. Our plenary speakers include Carolyn Finney, who will speak about environmental and social justice considerations in the world of big data; Carlos Castillo-Chavez, who will speak about the application of mathematics to environmental science issues and recruitment and retention of minorities in the data sciences; Melvin Hall, who will speak about evaluation of data science programs and culturally responsive evaluation; Drew Hasley, who will speak about data visualization for students with visual impairments; Melinda Laituri, who will speak about spatial justice and data ethics and analysis of the interactions between space and society to understand social injustices; Marco Hatch, who will speak about the integration of traditional ecological knowledge and recruitment and retention of indigenous students; and Whitney Tome, who will speak about increasing racial diversity within large environmental non-profits, foundations, and federal government agencies. There will also be posters and lightning talks to increase awareness of relevant initiatives and conference attendees will identify and prioritize topics for breakout discussion sessions. Learn more at

The National Science Foundation’s National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) project is a continental-scale ecological observation facility operated by Battelle. NEON provides the following:

  • Free and open data on the drivers of and responses to ecological change
  • A standardized and reliable framework for research and experiments
  • Data interoperability for integration with other national and international network science projects

We host 81 field sites across the country, providing over 170 data products. Standardized data collection methods are used across all sites using automated instruments, observational sampling, and airborne remote sampling. Via our data portal, you can download data, view the data product catalog, and read protocols. We also offer self-paced tutorials, teaching modules, data skills workshops, science videos, research internships, and seasonal fieldwork. We are working to increase accessibility of NEON resources by captioning videos on YouTube, adding alt text to images and figures in data skills tutorials, requesting information about the accessibility needs of workshop participants, checking the accessibility of our documentation, and recommending resources to make data and data skills trainings more accessible.

Barriers to STEM Learning: Cognitive Loads in the Classroom

Ibrahim Dahlstrom-Hakki, Technical Education Reasearch Centers (TERC)

It’s important to understand cognitive load. The processing capacity of our working memory is limited. A limited number of items can be held in working memory at any one point. Working memory can act as both a gateway to information processing and knowledge acquisition and as a bottleneck in acquiring and expressing knowledge. There are both intrinsic and extraneous processing loads when we learn. An extraneous load is part of a learning task that is not integral to the learning goal (i.e., spelling in a critical thought essay or reading in algebra word problem). An intrinsic load is the core elements of the learning task (i.e., the analysis in a critical thinking essay or algebraic reasoning in an algebra word problem). Learning is efficient when cognitive load doesn’t exceed working memory capacity. This happens when extraneous loads are low and the intrinsic loads are appropriate to the learner’s ability level. Learning is slowed or stops when cognitive load exceeds working memory capacity. This may happen if the intrinsic load is beyond a learner’s ability level or when extraneous loads are high.

Factors that limit available working memory include weaknesses in memory, attention, or executive function; language deficits; poorly automatized skills; and anxiety and other affective issues. Automatization of skills, addressing confidence and other affective issues, and effective strategy use can reduce extraneous cognitive load and free up working memory.

  • Common sources of struggle can come from
  • Poor or confusing formatting – 3a + 23 = 2a – 7 is easier to solve than IVa – XIX = IIa + VII.
  • Attention load simulation – In a geometry problem, it’s easier to solve a problem when the necessary information is embedded in the diagram.
  • language processing, and
  • anxiety.

Providing Equitable Access to Computing Education in Mississippi

Sarah Lee, Mississippi State University

In 2016, the Mississippi Alliance for Women in Computing received INCLUDES funding. Mississippi has the lowest median wages in the US and lowest rates of STEM employment, with women and people of color largely underrepresented in computing professions. Computer scientists in the southern US are underrepresented compared to the rest of the nation. Our Alliance illuminates computing pathways for women by attracting white women and women of color into computing, improving the retention rates of women in computing majors, and helping women transition into the computing workforce. With a variety of partners, we have offered summer programs for K-12 students in computer science and cybersecurity outreach; extracurricular activities, mentoring, and tutoring for college students; Attract-Inspire-Mentor PK-12 teacher professional development, and coding academies.

There are Mississippi Coding Academies in both Jackson and Golden State. They are tuition-free, 11 months opportunities with an employer-driven curriculum and a highly selective recruitment process. Students learn full-stack coding, soft skills, and have a direct connection with employers. The goal was to create opportunities, respond to a growing employment need for tech-skilled workforce, boost the innovation ecosystem for the state, and attract industry with a technology-trained workforce supply.

One of our partners is Academics, Campus Life, Community Involvement, Employment Opportunites, Socialization, and Self-Awareness (ACCESS) at Mississippi State University, a 4-year, comprehensive transition program designed as an inclusive post-secondary experience for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities. ACCESS students enroll in the University, participate fully in all aspects of college life, graduate from the program, and transition to their chosen employment and living situations, having become proficient in self-advocacy and self-determination.  We have built a partnership between our Coding Academies and students in the ACCESS program. We want to open up pathways for women and people of color, but also for people with disabilities and other minority groups. We are looking to expand our Alliance throughout the Southern US in the future.