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STEM Next Helps Out-of-School Programs Expand Through Professional Development

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Several programs that provide out-of-school learning opportunities for kids are getting a big boost thanks to STEM Next, a new national initiative designed to prepare more young people for careers in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. 

The University of San Diego received $12 million from the Noyce Foundation late last month to start the STEM Next program. The Noyce Foundation, which has supported STEM efforts for many years, stopped operations at the end of 2015. (Education Week was among its grant recipients.) Now many of the efforts supported by the foundation are being continued and expanded through STEM Next. [CORRECTION: (Feb. 11) The original version of this post included the incorrect year for when the Noyce Foundation stopped operations. The correct year is 2015.]

Organizations such as the YMCA of the USA, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, 4-H and Girls, Inc. are working with STEM Next to provide more opportunities for kids in these areas. The initiative also serves students through Afterschool Alliance, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and Every Hour Counts.

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"We're trying to work with those organizations who work directly with kids to help them identify quality programming," said Ron Ottinger, the director of STEM Next and former executive director of the Noyce Foundation. "The name of the whole game is quality professional development, helping lay staff and volunteers who don't have a science background learn quickly how to facilitate a quality STEM activity."

The president and the CEO of the National 4-H Council, Jennifer Sirangelo, compares STEM Next to longstanding investors in Silicon Valley.

"Those investors have become more than just financial investors," said Sirangelo. "They are coaches. They are guides. They are conveners. That's what I see STEM Next doing for our industry. Not only do they help with funding, but they also are literally involved in the thought process, in the system building."

Pam Garza echoes those sentiments. She's the STEM project director at the YMCA.

"We get so busy with our jobs that we don't often have a chance to lift our heads up and see what else is happening in the field," said Garza. "When someone is in a position to know all that information and be able to help share it and help guide us, that is a really instrumental role."


When you think of the YMCA or 4-H, STEM probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind. But leaders with both groups say helping kids become more engaged with science is a big part of what they do.

Garza says the YMCA has made STEM part of its strategic plan and hopes to have half of all Ys across the country offer STEM programming by 2017. And Sirangelo points to 4-H's long history of promoting science education.

"We have been doing science for more than 100 years," said Sirangelo. "You've seen a lot of the work in agricultural, environmental science, and our programs have evolved with the interests of young people. Today, that's turned into things like robotics and drones and rocketry and coding, in addition to all the natural world sciences, biology, and ecology, etcetera."

STEM Next says these subjects are increasingly what kids will need to succeed in the workplace. It reports that 80 percent of careers in the future will require some STEM training.

(Photo courtesy YMCA of the USA)

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