STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) integration is a hot topic in education today, and new studies are showing how STEM integration into Elementary and Early Childhood learning environments can have lasting impact on students confidence in STEM related fields. Which poses the question, how do young learners respond to/develop stewardship towards global STEM issues? This qualitative study observes how elementary students develop critical thinking skills and stewardship towards global STEM issues. STEM in Elementary/Early Childhood Learning is coming to the forefront, and teachers in these contexts need more professional development. A great way to engage students of these ages is in Informal STEM Learning Programs, such as afterschool clubs, summer camps, or even community partners. In a 12 week after school club, students were tasked with planning/implementing a school wide Compost Challenge to reduce food waste. Students learned about Environmental STEM, STEM careers, and Waste Management Hierarchy. Each club session, students learned about a specific piece of the global climate issue and related it to things in their everyday lives and collected compost for a compost bin.Students developed a sense of stewardship and ownership over the Compost Challenge in their school, participating in school collecting compost and sorting through compostable materials twice a week. Students planned a reward system for the class in their school that got the most correct compostable food items. Also, the club got a donation of Red Wigglers, a compost igniting worm, to help make the decomposition process happen faster. This informal STEM learning environment impacted the lives of not only the students involved, but the school and community as well. They realized that STEM related careers are so much more than just engineering, and their confidence in STEM learning was solidified.

Exit Requirement

Professional Project

Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science in Education: STEM Education

Committee Chair

Joshua Schulze

Committee Member

Kelsey Jenkins

Committee Member

Jessica North


Informal STEM, STEM Education, Elementary STEM, Club, Environmental STEM



Type (DCMI Terms)


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