Dr. Sarah Evans secures IMLS and NSF grants for Library Science and STEM Learning research projects

Assistant Professor, Sarah Evans has successfully secured grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

The grant from the IMLS in the amount of $427,731 will fund the project “Raise Up Radio: Family and Youth Engagement in Library Supported Learning via Radio", and is a collaboration between UNT and the University of Alabama Libraries. Led by Evans as the Principal Investigator (PI), the project will seek to address educational inequities in rural areas that have magnified since the COVID-19 pandemic, and also create a new community of practice for library professionals.

Sarah Evans profile photo
                   Sarah Evans

“Internet access continues to be expensive and inconsistent in rural America,” said Evans. “We got excited about the possibilities of families working with the library to create science programs relevant to local community needs, that could be broadcast on the radio.”

Over a two-year period, six libraries within the states of Texas and Alabama will design and implement science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educational programs that will be delivered through the radio. These libraries will create accessible, educational content through partnerships with schools, museums, youth, and families. With over 20 years of experience working with libraries and schools, Evans knows the value of these partnerships and says she “feels strongly that future public librarians must understand that they will need to be deeply interconnected with the communities they serve.”

The research from this project will aim to identify if local and collaborative library programs enhance youth and family STEM learning, and also the ways in which STEM content delivered by radio increases an interest in STEM learning.

Evans’ second grant from the National Science Foundation will fund the project “Collaborative Research: Diversifying Human-Centered Data Science through the Research and Design of Ethical Games.” This funding is part of the Build and Broaden Award which encourages research collaborations between scholars at minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and scholars in other institutions.

This interdisciplinary project will bring together a group of diverse undergraduate students from both UNT and the University of Washington to collaborate on the research and design of a simulation game that teaches ethical thinking in data science and artificial intelligence. The students will learn more about design research and game design.

This project will also see Evans as the Lead PI. She will collaborate with faculty and researchers from the University of Washington who will bring their expertise in data science, game design, and human-centered data science. Through an ethnographic case study, the project will examine factors that enhance the experiences of underrepresented groups in data ethics and also contribute to the knowledge of STEM learning benefits and barriers for students of color.

Evans, who has always been drawn to schools and libraries, says working in these organizations helped her to understand “that certain voices and experiences were given less priority and power in our organizations and communities.”

“The focus for this project is on helping faculty at minority serving institutions become stronger researchers who can then, in turn, bring more diverse students into doing research,” says Evans. “Diversity drives innovation and we need innovative solutions to the problems we face in society.”

Evans’ research focus and interests are in areas such as voluntary learning in various settings, public libraries, literature for youth, and pop culture and fan studies. She is also a co-director of the UNT Multiple Literacies Lab, a lab established by the Department of Information Science School & Youth librarianship faculty to enable the acquisition of multiple literacy skills through research and evidence-based practice.

Published September 2, 2021.