Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations are growing rapidly, with STEM outpacing growth of non-STEM by over four times. But lack of interest in STEM is a major reason people don’t enter STEM professions.
FIRST® seeks to inspire young people to consider STEM experiences and careers by engaging them in robotics programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills and inspire innovative solutions to real-world problems. Reaching 336,000 U.S. students in 2023, FIRST uses evidence-based strategies to increase student interest in STEM, including hands-on learning, teamwork on real-life problems, exposure to careers and adult mentors, and a robotics competition that completes the experience.
FIRST’s commitment to building evidence of impact differentiates it in the out-of-school time field. Since 2018, Overdeck Family Foundation has supported the organization’s longitudinal study examining how participation in FIRST during middle and high school is associated with long-term outcomes. This year, FIRST completed the ninth wave of follow-up surveys.
Nine years after participants’ original enrollment, the study continues to find sustained positive benefits of FIRST across all identity groups (gender, race/ethnicity, and family income level). Compared to demographically similar students who did not enroll in the program, students who participated in FIRST:
- Reported more positive STEM attitudes (2.2 times more interested in STEM, 1.9 times more likely to report strong STEM identity);
- Were more likely to declare a STEM-related major in college, with 81 percent of FIRST alumni declaring a STEM major, compared to 64 percent in the comparison group; and
- Participated in STEM careers at higher rates after finishing college, with 61 percent of FIRST alumni working in a STEM field, compared to 44 percent in the comparison group.
FIRST has also been building the evidence base for its FIRST LEGO® League Explore (ages six through 10) and Challenge (ages nine through 16) programs. A recent implementation study indicates positive gains in outcomes like interest in STEM, programming and coding skills, and understanding STEM content, as well as improved social-emotional outcomes like creativity, teamwork, and problem-solving.
Overdeck Family Foundation has played an instrumental role in supporting FIRST in its pursuit of scale and deeper evidence of impact by supporting the organization to increase its reach (especially in New Jersey), pursue a multi-year longitudinal evaluation, and navigate the challenges of rebuilding reach after the significant impact of shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.