Ignite: Empowering Students through STEM Curricula Integrating the Sustainable Development Goals (2019-2020)


Innovative curricula and effective mentorship can help promote interest and persistence in STEM for young people. Under the guidance of Duke’s Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies, university students have created and piloted STEM curricula that use a design-thinking framework and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as inspiration for design solutions.

This programming, called Ignite, promotes active mentorship, catalyzes collaboration and fosters global awareness and citizenship. This model has the potential to be sustained through a cycle of peer-to-peer education to make it economically viable to scale. Ignite has been implemented with community groups locally and abroad. Now, a coordinated effort with Durham Public Schools aims to enhance its STEM curricula.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project will bring together an interdisciplinary team of innovators and educators to optimize the Ignite curriculum for implementation in the Durham Public Schools system.

The project team will focus on creating content through an online platform of all existing Ignite curricular materials, implement a semester-long program with a public school in Durham, and assess its impact student interest and engagement. This work will provide the foundation for scaling the Ignite curriculum on STEM education to a larger number of Durham schools in subsequent years.

Team members will learn about the current curriculum and create instructional videos for an interactive online platform. The videos will serve as training modules for new teachers and mentors.

In the spring, team members will implement the program at Forest View Elementary School as an after-school program for fifth graders and middle schoolers. New elements will be added to the existing curriculum to provide sociocultural context about the problem.

The team will create metrics to measure the Durham students’ confidence in STEM abilities and desire to pursue further education or a career in STEM. Program impact will be measured in three key areas: 1) student interest in and engagement in STEM compared to baseline value; 2) number of students participating, growth over time and gender breakdown; and 3) interest in creating student-led after-school clubs or activities to continue the design thinking process beyond the initial instruction.

Anticipated Outputs

Online tutorials highlighting how to teach the curriculum; implementation metrics to assess impact of curricula; implementation of Ignite in collaboration with Forest View Elementary School


Fall 2019 – Summer 2020

  • Fall 2019: HEAR Phase: Learn about previous curricula; research education methodologies; design metrics (become familiar with current Ignite STEM curriculum; research and understand SDGs and STEM empowerment techniques and teaching methodologies, optimizing current curricula; use curricula to create online tutorials; design implementation metrics to assess curricular impact)
  • Spring 2020: CREATE Phase: Local implementation and optimization; tutorial creation (implement program at Durham Public Schools after-school programming at Forest View Elementary; continue online tutorial creation; perform impact assessment at local sites and gather data; prepare for unique summer implementation site)
  • Summer 2020 (Optional): DELIVER Phase: Incorporate curricula at a domestic or international site for approximately 8 weeks (implement newly designed curricula at local or international partnership site; use implementation metrics to gather data)

Team Outputs to Date

Mary Elizabeth Dotson, Valentina Alvarez, Maria Tackett, Gabriela Asturias, Isabela Leon, Nirmala Ramanujam. 2020. “Design thinking-based STEM learning: Preliminary results on achieving scale and sustainability through the IGNITE model,” Frontiers in Education.


Images: Courtesy of Duke Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies

Courtesy of Duke Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies.

Team Leaders

  • Libby Dotson, Pratt School of Engineering-Biomedical Engineering
  • Nimmi Ramanujam, Pratt School of Engineering-Biomedical Engineering

/graduate Team Members

  • Robert Morhard, Biomedical Engineering-PHD
  • Ruiming Xiong, Economics-AM

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Jamal Burns, History (AB), Neuroscience (AB2)
  • Madison Frazier, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Rhea Jain
  • Hope Springate

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, Duke Global Health Institute
  • Jory Weintraub, Science & Society