Presentation #212.02 in the session Public Engagement and Education Research.
On December 1st of 2020, the radio telescope at The Arecibo Observatory collapsed due to failure of two cables on Tower 4 of the structure. However, the education efforts of the education component of The Arecibo Observatory remained continuously working on developing the future scientific workforce from and of Puerto Rico. STAr Academy, which was founded with this purpose, started offering 21st century learning opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) to high school students on the island in September 2019. Since then, the program has served over 150 students. The program has focused on four main pillars of scientific skills and knowledge: conceptual knowledge of planetary and space sciences, programming, research, and leadership skills. The learning experiences combination of these areas serves in benefit of the development of a workforce that can adjust to the demands and needs of the 21st century scientist, academia, and private industry specialists in STEAM. Additional to these focus areas, STAr Academy has targeted the deconstruction of the construct of a scientist as a predominantly male figure that is “gifted” in terms of cognitive ability, provided access to students who otherwise don’t have access to high quality scientific education, and provided experiences for students to see themselves as scientists through the development of their own scientific identity. The students produce many research projects as part of the program, allowing for six standout projects to be presented in major scientific conferences. In terms of the development of the conceptual knowledge in planetary and space science, as well as in programming skills, the students have demonstrated vast improvements when the pre and post-test scores were compared. The impact of STAr Academy has extended beyond academics, as it has been observed in the latest survey in which volunteer students participated. In this survey 90.5% of the students that participated and were currently in high school indicated that they plan to pursue a career in a field related to STEAM, while 85.17% of the ones already at the university level indicated that they are enrolled in a field related to STEAM. Similarly, most of the students that participated in the survey have indicated that STAr Academy has been highly influential, or influential, in their decision or plan to pursue or not a STEAM career. The impact of STAr Academy in developing the future scientific workforce has been significant, however, we call for more collaborations and similar programs to be developed, to satisfy the current scientific needs of our nation.