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Woman with laptop computer and girl working on engineering model.

SoIC professor’s $499,941 IMLS grant focuses on rural libraries for STEM outreach

November 16, 2022

Not all children have access to STEM learning opportunities. But most have access to a public library. A professor at the IU School of Informatics and Computing (SoIC) in Indianapolis is helping to connect the two.

Soo Hyeon Kim, Ph.D., an assistant professor of library and information science at SoIC, is studying how to work with public libraries to offer elementary-grade engineering education. Her research project, “Family Makers: Online Engineering Program for Underserved Children and Caregivers at Rural Libraries” received a $499,941 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) this year.

Kim is the principal investigator; co-PIs are:

The University of Cincinnati is a key collaborator in this project. Choi will lead the design of the online engagement and facilitation, collaboratively conduct research activities, and develop the materials for dissemination.

This IMLS grant will strengthen rural libraries’ capacities for outreach educational programming and culturally relevant engineering programs for underserved children (5-10 years). “We expect the project will enhance children and caregivers’ engineering interest and participation and also support rural library staff to develop online facilitation skills and understanding of engineering design thinking,” Kim says.

Strengthening rural libraries is key

Kim researches ways to help socially marginalized groups learn about science, technology, engineering and math.

“Children’s career aspirations towards—and away from—engineering start as early as 10,” the research team noted in its IMLS proposal, which is why they decided to focus on engineering. “It is critical to provide opportunities to understand what engineering is from an early age.”

“Rural districts are often excluded from federal initiatives and lack resources to implement engineering curricula,” Kim says.

“However, we argue that rural libraries, the only public institution that provides free learning resources, can address this challenge by positioning them as hubs to broaden engineering participation.”

Centers for informal learning

During the three-year project researchers will work with eight rural libraries, each from a different state (including one in Indiana). Through research-practice partnership, the library partners will co-design and co-facilitate the online engineering programs.

“Dr. Kim’s research is of particular importance to the field as there is an increasing expectation that libraries of all types will acquire new expertise and resources support to informal learning,” notes SoIC’s Andrea Copeland, who serves as program director for the school’s Department of Library and Information Science.

“Further, librarians are being called upon to facilitate learning in libraries through instructional design and community collaborations. Her work is well-positioned to advance our understanding of the potential for public libraries to meet communities’ informal learning needs.”

Engineering that’s relevant to rural children

The project team will co-design curricula for six online programs, then test and revise the material by implementing the program at the participating libraries.

Kim and the research team will develop and disseminate ready-to-use, open-source digital content for the online engineering program.

“Underserved children, especially those living in rural communities may find engineering unrelatable or unachievable,” Kim notes. “Culturally relevant and contextually appropriate engineering learning curriculum is needed for children in rural communities.

“From this research, we hope to leverage rural engineers’ narratives and lived experiences as resources for engineering learning.”

Kim adds, “We expect that when children connect with rural engineers who are like themselves, they are more likely to find relevance and engage in engineering activities in the future. We will also center on children’s everyday making practices and use them as legitimate learning resources for engineering.”

STEM learning as a family activity

Caregivers will be important learning partners in this program.  “Family Makers engineering program is a family activity,” Kim says.

“We expect that caregivers’ participation in online programs can increase their confidence to support children’s future engineering interest.”

To help families participate in the online engineering programs, the research team will provide hotspots, tablets, craft supplies, and technology guides.

Kim notes that 80.5 percent of public libraries are rural and small-town libraries and about1.5 million rural children live in poverty.

“Providing a new outreach educational programming that overcomes barriers to serve underserved rural children will directly make a national impact,” she says. “I am excited to explore ways to position rural libraries as a key institution to democratize engineering learning opportunities for children.”

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. It advances, supports, and empowers America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. IMLS envisions a nation where individuals and communities have access to museums and libraries to learn from and be inspired by the trusted information, ideas, and stories they contain about our diverse natural and cultural heritage. To learn more, visit and follow the institute on Facebook and Twitter.



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