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National Program to Increase STEM Learning Opportunities Expands

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A program that seeks to increase the opportunities for kids to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, both in and out of school is expanding.

The STEM Learning Ecosystems initiative supports collaborations between schools and out-of-school programs as well as "STEM expert institutions" such as museums and science centers, the business world, and community-based organizations.

Bay Area[1].jpgThe program, which launched last year with 27 ecosystems, has added 10 additional sites around the country.

The STEM Funders Network announced the addition of these sites last week during the 2016 U.S. News STEM Solutions National Leadership Conference:

  • Bmore STEM (Baltimore)
  • Carbon/Schuylkill/Luzerne Counties Ecosystem (Schnecksville, Pa.)
  • Central NM STEM-H Education Hub (Albuquerque, N.M.)
  • Central Oklahoma Regional STEM Alliance (Oklahoma City, Okla.) 
  • DC STEM Network (Washington)
  • Northeast Florida STEM Hub (Jacksonville, Fla.)
  • Lancaster County STEM Alliance (Lancaster, Pa.)
  • North Louisiana STEM Alliance (Shreveport, La.)
  • Omaha STEM Ecosystem (Omaha, Neb.)
  • STEM Hub Downeast (Machias, Maine)

"It's an exciting development," said Ron Ottinger, the STEM Funders Network co-chair and the director of STEM Next. "Our goal is to bring on at least 100 communities over the next five years to join this pioneering initiative to reshape and rethink STEM education using the best of in- and out-of-school strategies."

The sites added this year include a mix of both big cities and smaller communities, which is by design.

"We thought from the beginning to have a good mix of communities, some urban, some suburban, some rural, so that we learn what it takes to bring this work to communities with all demographic profiles and characteristics," said Ottinger. "Particularly for kids in rural areas, the partners in those communities know that every dollar and every partnership has to count because there's only one of everything from the YMCA or Boys and Girls Club to the library, to the K12 system."

He used Lancaster, Pa., as an example of a rural area with employers who are having trouble finding local workers with STEM skills.

"There's really an opportunity there for the school system, the community college system, and the after-school- and out-of-school-time youth development providers to come together and say we've got jobs going begging and we need to do a better job of getting our local talent prepared," said Ottinger.

The 10 sites chosen were part of a group of more than 20 that had been invited to apply. Most had applied to be part of the initial group. They filled out extensive applications, and after a vetting process that included follow-up questions, calls, and sometimes visits, they were selected.

In each ecosystem, a different partner will take the lead. For example, in Baltimore, the Out of School Time Network is overseeing the project, while in Omaha, Neb., it's the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.

The STEM Funders Network and STEM Next are both supported by the Noyce Foundation, which also supports some video coverage of science learning and career pathways for Education Week.

Photo: Students work on a lesson through the Bay Area STEM Ecosytem. (Courtesy Bay Area STEM Ecosystem)


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