A Blog that's all things STEM education and workforce...NEPA STEM BLOG!
Why Youth Voice is important in STEM Education
-May 12 2022
By guest author Ronak Suchindra, 9th grader and the founder of Kids Connect
There is true power in enabling youth and incorporating youth voices in STEM education. While youth need to be empowered to learn skills that help them be ready for their future, there is tremendous benefit in enabling a model where young people engage and also lead initiatives in STEM education. Models can be established that are not only effective, but can also be delivered at low cost.
I am sharing my experiences as a teenager and as someone who has been working with youth and creating a platform for STEM education.
Education needs and demands are changing
With the advances in technology, kids have various avenues and channels to engage when it comes to learning. Learning itself is going through a transformation where new concepts are growing at a rapid pace. This is especially true in the field of STEM where rapid innovations are being seen on a more frequent basis. Traditional learning needs to be complemented with new ways of learning to fix this “learning gap” that is created due to this increased rate of technological advances.
STEM skills are very multifaceted and can be applied to any industry. In fact, STEM skills have influenced and paved the way for innovations and the shaping of the 4th industrial revolution. STEM skills are in high demand and are being applied in solving problems in many fields. As an example, programmable irrigation control based on weather patterns helps efficient ways to determine when and how much to water. Medical professionals use data science to quickly process massive amounts of data and predict patient behaviors as part of medicine research. Due to this inherent need for STEM skills in many of these fields, STEM skills will continue to be in demand.
I got involved at an early age with STEM. As an eight-year-old kid, I joined a 4-H robotics club and was fascinated by the way robots worked. My curiosity led me to engage more in robotics and related programs and with support from my parents, I was also able to learn them at home. I started participating in robotics and science competitions. This led to a new level of learning for me in terms of how I approached problems using critical thinking and creativity.
Where youth steps in
With such rapid technological and socio-economic changes, youth are best positioned to drive STEM education as they are best at adapting to these changes. A relatively more risk-prone behavior enables them to learn fast from failures and creates resilient ways to approach these changing situations. They are able to relate to these rapid changes that broadens their perspectives, leads to new ways to approach change, and it helps contribute to their professional and social development.
Ever since I was young, I had a strong passion for teaching and volunteering. I used to conduct coding and science workshops for a small group of kids during the summer. During the Coronavirus Pandemic, I saw a rapid rise of kids not engaging in education. I saw this as an opportunity to help them and started conducting weekly coding and science workshops. Seeing a tremendous interest as well as the feedback to include more types of workshops, I reached out to my friends, and we created a diverse set of STEAM workshops to engage kids. This enabled parents to focus on their work while their kids were occupied with our workshops. By April 2020, seeing an immense potential and the need to support this model, I founded Kids Connect, a 501 c (3) nonprofit organization whose mission was to empower kids to make education accessible to kids all around the world. We focused on STEAM skills and hands-on workshops. We wanted to make this entire learning process fun and interactive.
Research backs youth engagement
There is a term “cross-age teaching” that has been tested and well adopted in organizations. According to the Office of Justice Programs, “Cross-age teaching occurs when you share your skills and knowledge with persons who are either younger or older than you.” “Research shows that cross-age teaching is an effective delivery method because pre-teens and younger children respond more to behavior modeled by teens than by adults.”
From my experiences with educating youth, I have seen how they have been able to connect with like-minded peers as well as instructors who are close to their age and who can relate well with them. Additionally, including hands-on activities in our workshops has significantly increased the retention of the skills we teach as well as made it more fun for kids to participate in.
Youth development is important
Being able to participate in our workshops allows kids to have lots of fun while learning and applying new skills. As kids start learning these skills early, they have the opportunity to nurture their passions and strengths which can eventually be used in future careers. Additionally, we expose our students to future situations, such as working in teams, which get them ready for our future workforce.
During our workshops, we have seen many youths connect the dots and make discoveries on their own. For example, in many of our crafting classes, our students have found new ways to reach the goal which they have shared with the rest of the class. Through Kids Connect, we have not only been able to educate kids on skills but also encourage them to pass these skills on, creating ripple effects in learning across
the globe. In our chess workshop, some of our students have gone on to create their own chess workshops for others and spread their knowledge to the next generation.
Social benefits are prevalent
Teaching and managing STEM programs allows youth to learn life skills and soft skills that overall have positive impacts on their behavior and communication. Problems like mental health and bonding further improves social behaviors and how youth engage with their community. Youth can lead efforts to educate underserved communities.
All of our workshops create safe spaces where kids can explore and connect with those who share similar interests. Many of our students have created relationships with their peers and instructors in each workshop. We saw how youth and kids bond. This is an environment that we created where kids can explore and take risks to further their learning.
At Kids Connect, we have also created many youth-led community service projects which have allowed the youth to step up and give back to their communities. We hosted an event where youth created and later distributed 500 cards to local first responders. In the Winter of 2021, kids collected over 400 coats and pairs of shoes which were donated to those in need. Giving youth early exposure to community service and career-related skills allows them to invest in their passions and become future-ready.
Serving a low cost model
There are tremendous economic benefits in such youth led models. Most of these models are driven through volunteerism and community service that enables us to operate at a low cost. Youth can serve in multiple positions, not just in teaching, but also other functional areas such as treasurer, site administrator or even a social marketer of these programs.
I have seen this model be very effective: it is low-cost and something that can easily be put to practice. Even with limited funds we raised, we were able to reach over 3000 kids and offered 8000 student interaction hours. On an average we spent about $7.50 per student. The cost to serve included technology and platforms we licensed to conduct our online programs. Students and parents had to bear costs for paper and any other materials they used, but our workshops ensured those materials were daily household items and items that were easily accessible. With more sophisticated workshops, we can raise funds to offset any costs undertaken by students.
While I have cited some examples that I have come across through my experience, I am sure there are more. As a means to truly establish this model, educators and leaders need to work with youth to support and encourage them. There needs to be more of such programs that benefit youth involvement. A systemic change can be offered through school districts through programs that encourage youth participation and create avenues of participation across all age groups. Equally important will be mentoring and support from parents and adults that can shape this model to drive better outcomes. While the primary mode of education and learning is offered through schools, such secondary means need to be instituted to complement in ways that provide a holistic approach in our education system.
Kids Connect Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/kidsconnectelearning
Kids Connect Google Site: https://sites.google.com/view/kidsconnectelearning/home
The legacy and vision for environmental literacy in Pennsylvania
-April 13, 2022
By guest author Tarrea Potter, Pennsylvania Education Outreach Coordinator, Professional Learning Team, Chesapeake Bay Foundation
When I think about the most powerful and memorable learning experiences I had as a student, I don’t remember the books or the tests or even, all these years later, all my teachers’ names. What I do remember are the experiences. The authentic, hands-on experiences where I was pushed out of the comfort of my tidy desk and taken outside the brick-and-mortar structure of the school building, to the world where I lived, the streams where I played, the fields where I camped, and the forests where I stood in awe of the towering trees that shaded the trails I hiked. I was so fortunate to have teachers that understood the power of these experiences before they had a trendy title. They understood that these experiences would empower their students to use their voice and minds in ways they would foster and develop skills that a textbook can’t teach. They understood the need to question, design, and build. They understood that creating environmentally literate students, would in turn create environmentally literate adults. PA Environmental Literacy and MWEE Capacity Building Network members, with the funding assistance of NOAA B-Wet grant program, (Grant #s NA17NMF4570274 & NA20NMF4570238) are working to implement environmental literacy and learning opportunities systemically and equitably within school district curriculum for all learners across the Commonwealth, utilizing the Meaningful Watershed Environmental Experience (MWEE) framework.
We need water to survive. We are taught that very early in our lives. To take it one step further, we all live in a watershed, the area of land which drains and sheds water into the aquifer, stream, river, or lake we depend on for that essential liquid. All of our daily actions either use the resources within that watershed or impact our immediate watershed and all the watersheds downstream. In addition to survival, water plays an important role in two of the Commonwealth’s economic drivers: agriculture and recreation. It is a resource that is valued, sought-after and fought over throughout the world. Pennsylvania is fortunate enough to boast over 86,000 miles of creeks, streams, and rivers, ranking just behind Alaska. These waterways weave and connect to four major drainage basins: Delaware, Susquehanna, Ohio, Great Lakes basin. Each of these basins transport water to larger outlets such as the Delaware and Chesapeake Bay and the Gulfs of Mexico and Saint Lawrence. Now, consider that 27,886 miles of this vital natural resource have been deemed as impaired (2022 statistics), a 9% increase from just two years earlier. The nature of water, fluid, solvent, and conveying, means that those impacts which have left our streams impaired, move with each drop, out of the smaller watersheds and onward to the bigger basins. Understanding that we do in Penn’s Woods doesn’t stay in Penn’s Woods and we have the potential to affect millions and millions of people and critical habitats thousands of miles away -- in positive and negative ways-- needs to be a part of our awareness and inspiration for action.
We All Live Downstream
As grim and vast as that picture is, there is great hope and opportunity for positive change. In an ongoing effort to combat and prevent contaminated water from the seven jurisdictions that contribute to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the governors of the six states and the District of Columbia’s mayor, met to sign a revised Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement (CBWA). This agreement, signed by former Governor Corbett on June 16, 2014, pledged the Commonwealth’s support for a series of goals designed to improve the health of the water, including an environmental literacy goal to “establish strong, targeted environmental education programs.to enable every student in the region to graduate with the knowledge and skills to act responsibly to protect and restore their local watershed”. Outcomes that support the goal of producing environmentally literate citizenry are related to rigorous, inquiry-based learning opportunities at the elementary, middle, and high school levels; creating environmentally sustainable schools that reduce the impact of their footprint on the environment; and development of comprehensive environmental literacy plans. [TP1]
Actions taken now can help to restore Pennsylvania waterways to safe levels, impacting life downstream, but the time to act is now and people likely to bring the most impactful change are currently sitting in our schools, our students.
What is a Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience?
MWEEs, at their roots, support high-quality teaching and learning by actively engaging students in building knowledge and meaning through hands-on experiences. The MWEE is not curriculum, but rather research supported framework in which to package experiences that support standards and curricular goals. These experiences empower students to become more engaged in their learning, support student achievement, advance 21st century/career-readiness skills, promote a strong connection to their place, and support environmental stewardship and civic responsibility.
Policy and Programs Supporting MWEE
Drawing on her abundance of natural resources, Pennsylvania was long touted as a leader in environmental education, with support for this programming at the Commonwealth level. Pennsylvania’s Environmental Education Act (1993, 2007, 2008), the umbrella for all environmental education work in Pennsylvania, cites Section 27 of Article I of the Commonwealth’s Constitution, stating that: “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.". [TP2] The EE Act goes on to declare that an “environmental education is critical to promoting a healthy environment and citizenry, sustainable communities and to the growth of Pennsylvania’s economy”, thus making it necessary to establish the Pennsylvania Advisory Council for Environmental Education to oversee and manage the Pennsylvania Environmental Literacy Plan (currently under revision) throughout the Commonwealth.
The Pennsylvania Environmental Literacy Plan (PA ELP) was amended in 2015 with guidance rising from several documents including the Environmental Education Act, Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, and the No Child Left inside Act, connected to the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. The PA ELP [TP3] is designed to help support and meet the goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement and offers structure to expand this work to all watersheds in Pennsylvania through systemic integration of the meaningful environmental and watershed literacy experiences throughout all Pennsylvania’s educational experience, PreK-College and beyond.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education began work to further promote environmental literacy across the Commonwealth becoming a lead partner in the NOAA BWET funded Environmental Literacy Capacity Building efforts which began in 2017. Throughout the last 5 years, these efforts have elevated awareness of and capacity to implement the goals of the CBWA and the PA ELP across the state.
In the Fall of 2019, the PA State Board of education approved the start of the process to revise the 2002 Academic Standards for Environment and Ecology, and Science, Technology, and Engineering. They were instructed to research and review best practices in each field as well as the structure and potential application of the K-12 Framework and the Next Generation Science Standards.
Over the course of the next year and a half, the Content and Steering Committees worked to research and propose integrated science standards. In September of 2020, the first draft of the proposed standards were voted on and approved by the PA State Board of Education. This standards package moved through the regulatory process over the next 6 months. The standards update was published in the PA Bulletin in June 2021, opening the 30-day public comment period which ended in early July. By the end of the thirty-day public comment period, the proposed package of standards had solicited 2,281 comments. Most commenters stated these standards did not draw explicit attention to Environment, Ecology or Agriculture, all of which were part of the 2002 standards. Many asked the State Board of Education to consider amending the proposed standards package by adding Environment, Ecology and Agriculture back into the standards in a 5th Domain. Subsequently, the State Board of Education charged PDE with reconvening the Content and Steering to consider the comments and determine if further action or revision was needed. These groups worked to conduct further review of research, referring to national frameworks and the result of the work was creation of a 5th Domain which incorporates a 3-dimensional approach, integrating environmental literacy, sustainability, and agriculture performance expectations (PE),These new standards within the Environmental Literacy and Sustainably domain integrate the goals for environmental literacy throughout the entire domain by braiding together MWEE essential elements and practices, science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and cross cutting concepts from all the environmental literacy disciplines On January 13th, 2022, those revisions were approved by the State Board of Education. The Package has been resubmitted for a “final” regulation review process which includes simultaneously a second review by the IRRC and entry into the legislative process for ratification.
The Work Being Done
In 2018, the Environmental Literacy Task Force received the first round of NOAA BWET funding to begin building Environmental Literacy and MWEE support capacity across Pennsylvania. During the first year of the project, the small team tasked with this work, trained non-formal educators (i.e., State Park educators, Nature Center Staff, Non-Profit staff) as MWEE Ambassadors, familiar with the process and framework and ready to support classroom teachers and administrators who may reach out wanting to complete a MWEE with their students. During the second and third years of the grant, the team worked more directly with formal educators and administrators to develop an understanding for MWEE and how to incorporate this framework into their curriculum. As the project developed, the team expanded and additional opportunities for trainings were necessary. The team gathered survey feedback to determine continued gaps and needs. From this feedback, the second proposal for funding was born. The feedback made clear that there was a continued need for administrative support/training and a desire for more advanced content training for elements specific to the MWEE. Workshops incorporating student voice and focused on Stewardship and Civic Action were conducted. It also became apparent that there was a need to train more “trainers” in the process, so in the Winter of 2021, a small core of the Leadership Team began training STEM contacts at the Intermediate Units. The expansion of the pool of facilitators will make it possible to continue to build capacity as we support Environmental Literacy across the Commonwealth.
Innovation. Relevance. Opportunity. Meaning. As the important work of the Environmental Literacy Task Force continues, we can rest assured that the learners in the Commonwealth will have access to powerful learning opportunities that will emphasize the deep fundamentals of environmental literacy, and that educators have the tools necessary to take learning outside. After all, not all classrooms have four walls.
Ideas on stimulating the connections between industry and education
-March 17, 2022
By guest author L Roeg Williamson, JD, CCM, CLMP
Over the course of my career, I have had the privilege of working with educational entities for the majority of my professional experience and still do to this day. Listening to educators and helping them understand my industry when it intersected with theirs over time allowed me to become more effective in my specific communication when interacting with educational entities. This is nothing out of the ordinary. Experience dictated more successful communications as often is the case through repetition, trial, and error.
However, I also started to realize something else. To me, it appeared as there was a bit of a discord in the communications between industry and education on notable occasions. I noticed this the most when I started down my road with STEM advocacy.
Now, on the face of this, I am not saying that either entity is or was less attentive, or less intelligent, or even less interested. It was simply that often, even though both entities were searching for mutual beneficial relationships, all of which was evident and for certain, that educational professionals and business professional often struggled to find common ground in their communications. Specifically, the importance of context in their conversations. Both talked in context as if they were talking educator to educator or industry rep to industry rep.
For my own context, I grew up the son of a teacher. So, I had a leg up in my professional endeavors with the education sector. I understand how teachers tick, well at least better than most. There is a routine to most educators. There is in most instances a different way of thinking, communicating and processing information verses those rooted in industry. For example, it was not uncommon in my house, as I am sure it is with anyone who had a teacher as a parent or a friend who had a teacher as a parent, to have my mom correct grammar without hesitation. I can still hear my mom saying, “Marc, I don’t know, can you have more water?”
Now, for complete background, while my mother was a teacher, my father was a business owner. So, while I understood better than most the routine and communication of an educator, I also received the benefit of business acumen and routines as well. Problems were addressed and solved differently in business from my early experience and as I ascended into the working world too. Communication and processing information was different as well.
So, utilizing the grammar correction example above but as applied to industry, a typical business person would solve Marc’s problem with water by going through a series of rebuttal questions or observations to get him to his goal, that glass of water. They would never correct his grammar, waiting for him to make the request in a grammatically correct context before giving him the glass of water.
In sum, it’s a different understanding and communicative experience from both perspectives of education and industry, which is often driven by context. Be that as it may, both serve the same objective. To get Marc his water. However, the paths taken by the educator vs the business person to get to the same solution are somewhat in contrast to one another at times. This is important to take in and understand.
The business world often speaks through acronyms. Such as ROI, MBO, CSA, TIV, SOV, EOB, and so forth. Profit is most commonly the objective. Swift execution without errors is key. Customer satisfaction is a priority. Educators speak through driving the educational experience, lesson plans, meeting state standards, graduation rates, parent’s involvement, and so forth. Educating the student is the only objective. Now, these summations are not a criticism or belittlement of either, nor a disrespect of either’s craft. Each have their own priorities and methods to their craft. However in some instances, when business and education intersect over a specific issue, the communication and outcomes are stellar. But that is not always the case.
I have sat in meetings with business and education stakeholders, where each side have politely nodded their heads while listening to one another, but to each come away from the meeting without a clear understanding of the others objectives. Now, this is not the type of example that is really out of the ordinary. Meetings occur all the time and end without focused understandings by one or both sides.
With this all in mind, what can be done though when industry and education want to collaborate towards mutual beneficial interests, say over preparing students for the changing workplace of today? How can educators reach out and collaborate with industry effectively and visa versa? To start, we have to consider why both education and industry would want to collaborate in the first place.
From the industry prospective, now more than any time in history, there is a desire for more specific skill sets with incoming employees. Education in both the primary and post graduate world have challenges to keep pace and adapt with the new working world. The education perspective is equally key. All educators want their students to be successful, that is never a question. But education has largely been rooted from industrial aged thinking. Learning is primarily compartmentalized by age groups and grades, promoting the ultimate goal of degree completion and assentation into higher learning. Unfortunately, the needs of modern work is at odds with the structure of primary education practices.
Companies like Google and Facebook no longer scrub their incoming resumes for degree requirements. The four year degree now is not the norm or expectation. However, the ability of students to understand Facebook or Google-search marketing, by example, is important in today’s market in several sectors. Most schools, whether primary or post graduate, are not teaching this skill or are teaching antiquated marketing skills that are no longer relevant.
There is a long laundry list of other skills that industry looks for as well, many of which that will not impede with state standards for curriculum. Things like soft skills and working in a team. The most frequent comment I hear from industry representatives is that the younger generation(s) greatest strength also is to blame for their biggest weakness. Being so reliant and proficient with technology, most have not worked on others skills apart from their digital devices.
They can all jump on Minecraft or fortnight and successfully complete a task as a team in the digital world, but collaborating in person over a similar objective is sometimes difficult and resembles a middle school dance. Everyone standing on different sides and no one talking to one another.
The reality is that industry desires that their modern workforce to have a much different skill set. Tapping into and understanding that is obviously key to the successful workforce of the future. Collaboration, problem solving, adaptation, project management, rapid prototyping, and higher-order thinking on a multidisciplinary level are just some of boxes industry looks to check when considering employees.
Industry can arm the education sector with the information to adapt students to the new working world. Creating collaborative opportunities between education and industry opens the floodgates to help create a better-rounded work force to keep up with the demands and changes of a modern workforce.
Taking all this in mind, how can educators reach out to industry, and vice a versa, to stimulate some of these changes and in an effective manner? The low hanging fruit is obviously the internet, but is that ultimately effective? It is easy to search out and find companies willing to provide opportunities to education.
The problem is, do these companies deliver on those opportunities and are they asking for something in return to benefit their profit line or their future workforce needs. One thing is for certain, education is all about the student and how to better prepare them to be successful. When education reaches out, it is rarely in a selfish manner when it comes to student empowerment. Therefore, for lack of a better term, do all business have the right DNA? Do they have an altruistic desire to interact with education in an impactful way through any opportunities they might offer? Finding these businesses is key.
I have experienced many of these business or organizations first hand, at times in bulk and individually. For example, I helped organize a “business to school” speed dating event. We brought in interested business, those with the right DNA of prioritizing the future of work over profits, and school officials interested in connecting with these types of business sources. We put them in a room with a suggested list of questions and gave them a 4-5 minutes to speak to one another about their mutual needs and rotated them around so everyone could speak to all the parties on each side. In total, there were about 20 representatives on each side.
At the end of the day, the feedback spoke for itself. Most of it, without going into great detail though, came in the form of “I didn’t know they would do that ” or “ I had a misunderstanding of this ”. Without getting into specifics, the collaboration clearly opened eyes to each side in a very meaningful way and corrected prior assumptions and understandings of what each side was expecting from the other and what they were willing to do to accomplish goals that aligned mutually.
In some instances, these interactions are a bit more intimate. Corbett is an industry standard in classrooms. They supply furniture to many school districts, mostly here in PA, as they are headquartered in Norristown, PA. So why are they so different? As I noted above, they have the right DNA.
Corbett has taken upon themselves to reach out to education community and invite them to interact with them. They have a maker space on steroids, called Flux, that showcases the abilities for school districts to make interactive learning spaces. But it does not end there. Districts are encouraged to come to Flux and experience training modules and other various events and activities. It is not all about STEM and most importantly, making a sale for the business. The approach at Corbett surrounds fostering collaborative opportunities between education and industry to remove the standardized educational experience and create connections with the community and workforce of the future as well.
However many opportunities offered through industry, unlike the examples above, are often random acts of kindness, rarely getting to the heart of the issue by failing to clearly understand what is being asked. This reverts back to the contextual messaging. Business need to know specifically how they can help. Is it support for early childhood education, internship programs, teacher in the workforce, or just information on what soft skills employers are looking for. Each side needs ensure their messaging is clear, otherwise a school ends up with a donated piece of machinery verses learning what job skills are important to that specific business to help enrich students for their future in the workforce.
While this may seem like it should not be a hard task, it is sometimes the hardest to overcome. How then, can you qualify the opportunities available? Taking a local grassroots approach is often the best first step. While not ultimately a goal of education, industry loves to have local talent, the ability to help mold that local talent, and to keep that talent local. Community Colleges, by example, generally curtail their curriculum to local industries and are often a good source to connect with. Any local chamber of business and industry is another great resource. Whereas something that was rarely found in the past, now mostly all chambers have a dedicated team handling workforce development and can provide educators with input on what the job force is looking for.
Additionally, there are several local and nationwide associations that can offer insight into the needs of of industry. In PA, The Pennsylvania workforce development is one such association. Another source is any STEM Ecosystem that a school district might sit in. Most ecosystems not only focus on shining a light on STEM in the classroom and providing resources and connections to workforce development. Business and industries often work with ecosystems on workforce needs and initiatives. Lastly, local governmental representatives often hear from local industry on some of the pitfalls they are experiencing, so contacting your local state representative may bear fruit as well.
One thing is for certain, when education and industry work together with a mutual understanding of each other’s goals and objective, the outcomes are stellar. Both industry and education are interdependent on one another for a host a different reasons. Those primarily are that industry needs workers that are trained for new technology and skill sets. They depend on schools to provide or encourage certain skills and education basics of the modern working world needed to allow students to be successful in the workplace of the future. Conversely, education requires the support of industry to provide training opportunities, input on workforce needs, and to spark the interest of the future workforce.
When both sides are willing and have the correct understanding of the other’s needs, much can be accomplished to secure a meaningful relationship between education and industry to supply the diverse needs to support the objectives of each. Connecting the dots with the right interested parties on both sides is all it takes to make an improvement for the work force of tomorrow.
L Roeg Williamson, JD, CCM, CLMP is an industry representative on the executive team for the ENGINE of Central PA, which is a collaborative network evaluating and cultivating cross-sector partnerships between industry and education. He has over 20 years’ experience in the insurance industry and is also an adjunct professor for the Sigmund Wise School of Business at his alma matter, Susquehanna University. He can be reached through LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/lrewilliamson/ or email@example.com
Five Strategies you should consider to fund your STEM Programs
-February 14, 2022
By guest authors Demetrius Roberts, Ed.D. and Nancy Peter, Ed. D.
Okay, so you lead a STEM program, or maybe you are a leader within a STEM program, or maybe you are responsible for STEM fundraising in your organization. Really, it does not matter what role you have as a funding seeker. What matters is that you are here reading this blog, and the title of this said blog set off an alarm in your head because you would like to add some new strategies to your fund-finding toolkit.
Let’s keep this short and sweet. We have five strategies that you should consider if you are looking to fund STEM programs. The strategies below aren’t groundbreaking and for now, we can’t make claims that these strategies are grounded in evidence-based educational or philanthropic research. However, both authors are passionate about the topic. They have years of experience and several success stories that drive each of the ideas in each strategy. So, in no order, here are Five Strategies You Should Consider to Fund Your STEM Programs:
1. Make Friends Before You Need Them
Have you ever heard the phrase, it’s not what you know, but who you know? Well, when it comes to funding your STEM programs, this cliché holds true. This has several purposes. For one, you (and your staff) must be proactive in getting to know leaders of foundations and other funders. You (and your staff) must be proactive in getting to know leaders of foundations and decision-makers. Like most friendly relationships, this is ongoing and takes effort. This may include prioritizing time to connect periodically with your neighborhood friendly funder. For example, the authors of this blog became collegial friends in 2018 and have since partnered to write three grant proposals between 2018-2021 and are currently working together to implement a grant project. In reflection, both authors knew that it would be great to know each other as we look for ways to strengthen our programs and services. Secondly, you want to build relationships with others to really find great partners for your programs. The truth is, all dollars aren’t created equally. Who you partner with matters! To best determine who you should work with to fund your program, you need to make friends before asking for money.
2. Tell Your Story Using Quantitative and Qualitative Data
Among STEM funders, this one is a hot button item. Some funders will want to know about the impacts of your programs in concrete numbers through quantitative data. Other funders will want to hear impact stories that pull at their heartstrings and connect with their organization’s mission. The truth is, you need to be prepared to deliver both. That means prioritizing projects that collect stories and creating time to organize your program data in a way that tells your story. Like strategy number one, this means that you need to be proactive and prepared to pounce on an opportunity before the opportunity ever presents itself.
3. Think Systemically When Designing Your Programs
With constrained resources, funders are limited by the number and types of grants they can award grantees. In many cases, funders hope to identify approaches that lead to successful outcomes. Their investment might eventually be multiplied on a broader scale. Funders will want to learn from their investment and possibly replicate your work in other locations, cities, states, or countries. When casting a vision of your program, imagine if others replicated your work, and think through what it would take for that to be a reality for the funder. In other words, funding your program must really serve a greater mission in addition to your local mission to create the type of impact many funders seek.
4. Be Reliable and Accurate
Funders and funding organizations want to know that you can complete your work within the allotted time frame and for the agreed-upon amount of money. Funders understand that goals – especially lofty ones - will take time to achieve. When working through delivering a project concept or proposal, try to avoid the common mistake of underestimating or overestimating timelines and budgets. If possible, check in with all members of your program team to ensure you can deliver on the expectations that come with accepting funding. This may include conversations with potential fiscal agents, bank account managers, or business office administrators.
5. If Writing a Grant, Use Nancy Peter’s Grant Writing Tips
Okay, so number five is a bit different than the others. However, we thought we would not be doing our job if we did not provide you with strategies and ideas to strengthen your grant proposals. So, without further ado, I present Nancy Peter’s Grant Writing Tips to you.
Always remember the grant readers’ comfort. Don’t make him/her work too hard: wade through too much rhetoric, struggle to figure out what you are saying, read pages and pages before understanding what you are seeking to fund, etc.
Similarly, try to summarize your proposed project at the beginning of the proposal, even if the application wants you to begin with outcomes, impact, etc. It makes it much easier for the reader to digest the rest of the document.
Never throw in unsubstantiated assertions. (“Research demonstrates that participating in OST programs improves students’ academic achievement.”). Anything that remotely pertains to research must be substantiated by a citation.
Similarly, avoid absolutes. (which, too, can rarely be substantiated). Don’t include sentences such as “All low-income children suffer from poor nutrition.”
On a related note, do not make your case by dissing others, (“No Philadelphia program addresses middle-school literacy, so we are the perfect organization to do so”). These statements are usually incorrect and can be professionally damaging.
Do your homework. Make sure you are familiar with who else is doing or studying what, so that you can legitimize the gap you hope to fill.
Follow the directions. All grant applications are different, so be careful if/when you cut and paste. Additionally, grant readers often use the same outline that the writers do, so following the directions makes it easier for the reader to navigate your application.
When possible, avoid the passive tense. It uses up more words, and can omit important information (such as who will do what).
Limit the number of adjectives. If your proposal is truly compelling, you will not need superlatives to convince the reader of its merits.
Use a consistent font. Nothing screams “cut and paste” louder than different fonts in the same document.
Check Spelling and grammar. In the age of spell-check and grammar-check, there is no excuse for these errors. When in doubt, engage a proofreader.
Blend types of data. Some funders prefer qualitative data (stories), and others prefer quantitative data (charts and numbers). Unless you know exactly what a specific funder wants, try including some of both.
When in doubt, use fewer words rather than more words. My personal pet-peeve.
Be consistent in pronouns and tense. My other personal pet-peeve.
Thank you for spending your time with us. We hope you find these tips helpful as you seek funding for your program.
Demetrius Roberts, Ed.D.
Director, STEM and Online Learning Services
Chester County Intermediate Unit
PA SEED Ecosystem
Nancy Peter, Ed.D.
Director, McKinney Center for STEM Education
Philadelphia Education Fund
Philadelphia STEM Ecosystem
Podcasts with educator resources Available now
-November 15, 2021
This past week, our STEM Ecosystem celebrated STEM in Industry with our community partners. Partners from around our 5 county catchment participated by holding free events for our community. Missed it? Pictures of several of the events can be viewed on our Celebration Archive page.
In addition, our ecosystem lead partnered with a neighboring community of practice to create a complete season of educational podcasts in which we interviewed members of industry across both of our regions. This podcast season can be found on our website, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Podbean. All of the members of our community that were interviewed hold STEM jobs in demand. This means that there is a current and future demand for these positions in our region. In addition, there is an Educator Resource page that links useful items like the show notes, episode transcripts, StartSOLE big questions and a Google Form to record Career Ready pieces of evidence to satisfy CEW Standards requirements.
Educators can use this in class to learn about different STEM careers that are available in our region like Physician Assistant, Mechanical Engineer, Agriculturalist and much more. Students can listen to these podcasts to hear what's possible in our region. Our hope is that these resources spark conversation and lead to students in our community pursuing these pathways to jobs.
Take a moment and have a listen. You never know what you might learn...
Celebration of STEM Complete!
-November 13, 2021
Thank you to Our Community Partners for their support for our Celebration of STEM in Industry!
Theresa Micknick, Physician Assistant
NEPA STEM Ecosystem Presents: A Celebration of STEM in INdustry
-November 4, 2021
In an effort to expose students, teachers and families to what careers are possible in STEM in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the NEPA STEM Ecosystem is organizing a series of events to celebrate STEM in Industry during the week of November 6 to November 14, 2021. STEM stakeholders in business and industry, nonprofits and educational institutions will host a variety of events and learning opportunities surrounding the wide and varied ways that STEM interacts with local Industry in Northeastern Pennsylvania. This week aligns to the National Day of STEM and there was a desire among our partners to recognize and elevate different industries in our region. The main goal for our ecosystem is to keep the talented young people we are raising in this region employed in really great STEM jobs close to home.
Through this weeklong celebration, students, teachers and families will be able to engage in a variety of experiences that highlight the available careers in our region, and best of all, it’s all free.
The marking of the National Day of STEM is common for STEM Ecosystems and other organizations who support STEM jobs in-demand. Highlights of this celebration include Chesapeake Bay Foundation Family Friendly Environmental Education Experiences, a whole season of Industry Partner Podcast episodes in partnership with BLaST Intermediate Unit 17, PreSchool STEM Play Marshmallow Construction Session, various student and family programs with the Susquehanna, Wayne and Lackawanna Library systems and a kickoff event: the SWB RailRiders Hackathon at PNC Stadium. All have been coordinated by various stakeholders involved in the NEPA STEM Ecosystem.
Pennsylvania has been growing a movement called the STEM Ecosystem. The PA Department of Education actively encourages STEM stakeholders across the Commonwealth to organize and develop regional communities of practice where a variety of STEM stakeholders mobilize around worthwhile causes to build and sustain the STEM talent pipeline in the state. The hope is our efforts here help to keep talented young people interested in STEM careers employed right here in PA.
BLaST Intermediate Unit 17 is also getting in on the action by co-hosting a Podcast series of interviews with regional Industry partners in both the IU 17 region and the NEPA STEM Ecosystem region. “We are excited to partner with NEPA STEM Ecosystem. It is important for our students to see the correlation between their learning and their future careers. Any chance we get to bring community partners, educators, and students together, is an opportunity to make learning relevant for our students,” says Rebecca Gibboney, Coordinator of Professional Learning at BLaST IU 17. “BLaST IU 17 will also be partnering with local districts and StartSOLE to host SOLE Slams, an inquiry-based event bringing together community partners and students.”
NEPA STEM Ecosystem is made up of a variety of STEM stakeholders including schools, universities, community foundations, nonprofits, museums, business/industry partners, etc. All unite as a regional community of practice around STEM with a desire to provide STEM experiences to the community they serve. These partners have been super excited to collaborate with each other and plan a variety of events. We are hoping to make this an annual celebration each fall.
We'd like to thank the following organizations for hosting and supporting events during our Celebration: Abington Community Library, Valley Community Library, North Pocono Public Library, Montrose Public Library, James V. Brown Public Library, the Cooperage Project, Wayne County Community Foundation, Gentex Corporation, General Dynamics Land Systems, the SWB Railriders, WVIA Studios, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, NEIU 19 and BLaST IU 17.
If you live or work in Susquehanna, Lackawanna, Wayne, Wyoming or Pike counties and want
to become a part of NEPA STEM Ecosystem, please email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.