Laboratory researchers help nonprofit measure its impact

Second annual Data Sprint works with STEM Santa Fe

By David Moore | November 21, 2022

Data Sprint Opt
Students at a STEM Santa Fe math festival held at Santa Fe Community College in April 2022.

The second Lab-organized Northern New Mexico Community Data Sprint was recently completed, with a team of four Laboratory data scientists gathering to help solve data-related problems for education nonprofit STEM Santa Fe

With support from Laboratory operator Triad, STEM Santa Fe organizes a range of programming, mentoring and resources for students across Northern New Mexico on  science, technology, engineering and math topics, particularly focused on groups underrepresented in STEM. It received the 2022 Piñon Visionary Award from the Santa Fe Community Foundation.

"Over the past several years we have collected a considerable amount of data comparing participants’ pre- and post-program’s interest in and identification with STEM that we use to evaluate program delivery," says Lina Germann, founder and CEO of STEM Santa Fe. "But we have not looked systematically across programs to compare the effectiveness of, for example, different modes of program delivery. The Data Sprint analysis allowed us to make such comparisons." 

The week-long virtual event was free for the nonprofit, and was sponsored by the Lab's Information Science & Technology Institute and Community Partnerships Office.

Boosting students' confidence

Based on the change in students’ confidence with math and science shown in analysis of the survey data, the sprint confirmed the effectiveness of the programs in stimulating STEM interest, but it also uncovered another important result. The pre-tests in confidence for youth who had already attended one of STEM Santa Fe's programs were consistently and reliably higher than the pre-tests for first-time participants. 

"At a minimum, this indicates that we are supporting sustained interest in STEM," says Germann. "It also provides suggestive evidence that our programs are having long-term positive effects on STEM interest and identification. We aim to firm up this evidence in the future."

"One of our team goals was to make recommendations on how to improve data collection efforts," says Jemma Stachelek, who led the Laboratory team. "If some of these are implemented, this will definitely improve subsequent analyses."

Collaboration and mutual benefits

While the Data Sprint's benefit to the nonprofit might be clear, Stachelek points out the Lab team also got a lot out of the experience.

"I think all of our team members were excited not only by the technical challenge of the sprint but also by the cause and mission of STEM Santa Fe," she says. "As team lead, I spent more time planning team strategy rather than doing my own analysis, but I was surprised at how rewarding I found it."

Germann stresses the collaborative nature of the sprint, with STEM Santa Fe providing some of the necessary insight and information beyond the data. "It was exciting to take a step back and look at years of data with scientists who do not get overwhelmed with too much data," she says. "However, I think I came to the conclusion that looking at data without context is not enough. Context explains the data sometimes, especially when you see outliers, like data collected during COVID times."

The Data Sprint is part of the Community Technical Assistance (CTA) program that makes the unique expertise and capabilities of the Lab available at no cost to nonprofits, tribal and governmental entities located in the seven counties of Northern New Mexico.

You can learn more about applying for help under the CTA program here.