Meet DBG’s Four Student Researchers for the National Science Foundation

There was an air of hushed intensity as four Downtown Boxing Gym students and Purdue University researchers paired off in twos to conduct practice interviews, simulating the way they will gather information for a $2 million, five-year study of national significance, funded by the National Science Foundation.

Tenth graders Aleena Watson and Keenan Cain and seniors Artis Watson and Kenneth Cain will play leading roles in the study to investigate how DBG consistently maintains a 98% opt-in rate for its voluntary STEAM Lab and increases students’ ability to see a career path for themselves in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – fields where there has historically been vast underrepresentation of Black and Latinx students. 90% of DBG students go on to pursue STEM careers.

Wearing branded “FULL STEAM AHEAD” T-shirts, they learned about the interview portion of the research they’ll conduct, including the purpose of research interviews, research ethics, and interview skills.

“I learned some important things about conducting a good interview,” said Aleena. “You need to make eye contact, check your posture, and appear confident. Also, if the interviewee isn’t saying much, you can always rephrase the question.”

The mock interviews were part of a larger three-day course led by Purdue researchers who are overseeing the collaborative study between Purdue University and DBG. The students’ work begins this month as they conduct real interviews with their peers focused on participation in DBG’s STEAM Lab. They will also gather information about how the experience impacts students’ plans pursue STEM fields after graduation.

“I like the goal of what we’re doing, which is to get our community in Detroit more immersed in the STEAM Lab and STEAM programs in general,” said Artis. “It’s important because, for one, they are good paying jobs and good career choices, and there are a lot of spots that need to be filled.”

For deep questions and matters this personal, DBG’s founder and CEO Khali Sweeney made the decision to promote students to researcher roles, because young people are more likely to be open and honest with their peers. The move also reflects DBG’s ethos of placing student voice at the center of programming decisions and in everything the nonprofit organization does.

“Our whole program is about elevating student voices, so who better to do these interviews than the students themselves?” said Katie Solomon, DBG Programs Director and Chief Operating Officer.

The students also saw sharpening their interview skills as being helpful outside of DBG. Keenan (pictured above) said he learned how to make interviewees more comfortable, which will serve him well in the career he wants to pursue.

“I’m interested in being a therapist, so this will help me build my connection and help me get information from people and connect with them more to make sure they’re feeling better,” he said.

Perhaps no one is more excited to have students gather data than the study’s principal investigator, Amanda Case, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Educational Studies at Purdue University’s College of Education.

“It’s always exciting to start collecting data, but I’m most excited for the students to be involved,” Dr. Case said. “The fact that the students are learning to do interviews and will be able to make their peers feel comfortable in sharing their experiences with the STEAM Lab, I think we’re
going to end up with incredible data to work with.”

Every weekday, elementary through high school students opt in to participate in a variety of classes in the DBG STEAM lab – studying everything from computer coding, robotics, and digital animation, to insects, weather patterns, animal life cycles, and more. Researchers want to learn what inspires students to enthusiastically “opt in” and how DBG’s holistic approach, which incorporates student voice in programming decisions, fosters efficacy or a student’s belief that with effort they can be successful.

“If we can then replicate that programming, we have a way to address the shortage of STEM workers in the country,” Dr. Case added.

You can see more of the research team pictured above. The results of the study could have a global impact. Watch our blog for updates as the project unfolds.