Thursday, August 18, 2016

Fletcher and Hernandez Received NSF Grant Award

Drs. Victor Hernandez and Edward Fletcher
Despite the strong employment outlook, colleges and employers have difficulties finding students and workers in the information technology (IT) sector (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). Reportedly, there are insufficient numbers of workers and students in the pipeline as enrollment in IT-related programs have declined since the mid-1980s (Engineering Workforce Commission, 2013; Wright, 2009). To increase participation in IT related programs and careers, reform efforts have focused on the reconfiguration of schools into IT theme-based career academies to enhance student motivation and academic engagement (Dixon, Cotner, Wilson, & Borman, 2011; Kuo, 2010). As such, the career academy model has grown in popularity as it has been found to positively contribute to student success (Kemple & Snipes, 2008; Stern, Dayton, & Raby, 2010). However, little is known about which organizational factors contribute to students’ college and career readiness in the context of IT pathways.

To address this void in research, Drs. Edward Fletcher and Victor M. Hernandez, received a 3-year grant award from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program. The purpose of The IT CAREERS Project: IT Career Academy Research on Educational Experiences & Related Successes is to develop an understanding of how a “high fidelity” NAF career academy model influences student experiences, outcomes, and under what conditions. Dr. Fletcher and Hernandez will serve as Co-Principal Investigators in collaboration with Dr. Katherine Blasik, Assistant Vice President for Research and Evaluation of NAF academies.

Using a mixed methods approach, the research team will rely on extant student-level data from the NAF dataset and comprehensive site visit data to address three research questions:

  1. What is the nature of organizational and implementation elements (mission, curriculum and instruction, internal and external supports) related to the effectiveness of high fidelity IT career academies?
  2. What are the student indicators of college and career readiness (engagement, performance, transitions) resulting from participation in exemplary IT career academies?
  3. What are opportunities/conditions (key elements/best practices) for scaling up IT academies?

The project builds upon three foundational strands informed by: (a) the career academy model, (b) organizational principles, and (c) indicators of college and career readiness. The academy model has been found to reduce dropout rates, improving attendance, increasing student academic course taking, and producing positive labor market outcomes (Kemple & Snipes, 2008). To understand how academies operate from a holistic perspective, the research team will use a conceptual framework strand based on principles of school restructuring, and systemic change leading to program sustainability (Hernández-Gantes, Phelps, Jones, & Holub, 1995; Newmann &Wehlage, 1995; Resnick & Williams Hall, 1998; Ryan, 2011). In addition, the researchers will use three indicators of college and career readiness emerging from research conducted by the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education: student engagement, achievement, and transitions (Stone, 2013).

The project will also build upon a collaborative approach featuring a partnership between the University of South Florida, the National Academy Foundation (NAF), and three high fidelity IT career academies—adhering to the NAF model and each located in a different region of the country. A Mixed Methods Expert and Evaluation Team with expertise in the different components of the project, will provide critical reviews to ensure the intellectual merits of activities and outcomes.

The contributions of the research project are expected in a better understanding of student experiences and outcomes related to participation in IT career academies at the high school level. Moreover, distinguished models of effective implementation of career academy practices are particularly not well documented. The proposed research aligns and supports ITEST interests related to increasing awareness of STEM related careers, assessing student motivation to pursue aligned pathways based on interests, and exploring experiences of students in STEM related areas.
For further information about the NSF ITEST program you may visit the Innovative Technology Experiences for Teachers and Students page. Project details are available at the NSF project abstract page.

For information about the project, you may contact Dr. Edward Fletcher ( or Dr. Victor M. Hernandez ( For additional information about NAF career academies, you may visit NAF's homepage.