Oct 19

Lessons from the latest STEMx Challenge Grants

Last October, the STEMx network issued $15,000 grants to five states . The “STEMx Challenge Grants” offered $75,000 in funding for states to advance STEM and share lessons learned with the national STEM community. Below, read the detailed reports submitted by each of the five winning states.

Idaho: New strategic plan and regional hubs planned to enhance statewide STEM access – Download report

Project plan: Facing projections of a 26 percent increase in the number of STEM jobs in Idaho by 2024, the Idaho STEM Action Center looks to expand into a full-fledged statewide STEM ecosystem. The Idaho STEM Action Center will bring partners together and formalize a state STEM network with shared vision, mission, and goals. This new strategic plan will include a series of regional STEM hubs. The project will be led by the Idaho STEM Action Center, a government agency under the Executive Office of the Governor. 

Insights: To lay the foundation for their STEM ecosystem, Idaho sat down with key stakeholders. In this meeting, the team identified 5 key priorities and divided into groups for each priorities. These groups have continued to meet, through today. The Action Center also reports that being a member of the STEMx network connects this effort to additional resources, guidance and connections. Continuing challenges include regional hubs cohesive and clearly defining infrastructure components such as funding sources, strategic planning expectations, and data reporting methods. The Action Center plans a follow-up conversation in September 2020.

Indiana: Community sessions culminate in state convening on rural STEM education –   Download report

The Indiana STEM Ecosystem will host a spring 2020 STEM Ecosystem Convening to gather businesses, PK-12 education and out of school programs. Attendees will identify key local challenges to expanding STEM partnerships to reach students in rural communities. Planning for the convening will include open sessions in Indianapolis, Northern Indiana and Southern Indiana. The Indiana STEM Ecosystem was established as the I-STEM Network in 2006 by the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, Eli Lilly and Company, the Lilly Endowment and Purdue University. For this grant, the Indiana STEM Ecosystem will partner with the Indiana Afterschool Network, ISTEM Resource Network at Purdue University, and the Rolls Royce Corporation. 

Insights: Under the STEMx funding, Indiana incubated new ideas to grown equity & access to STEM opportunities in rural communities. The key next priorities are: A STEM needs assessment , a digital asset mapping tool, a digital STEM “hub,” and support for local ecosystems. This work will help even the most rural areas of Indiana to identify challenges & solutions while working to fully develop a local/regional STEM ecosystem. 

North Carolina: Seven county rural region will select and achieve three key actions to expand rural STEM education Download report

STEM West rallied the seven-county region of rural western NC around STEM education. A full day event was hosted in western North Carolina at the Isothermal Community College in Spindale on January 30th. It highlighted local STEM programs and helped identify programming gaps. Participants identified three key future action items. Following the event, sub-meetings will begin to drive completion of these three action items in time to report back to STEMx in June. STEM West is a non-profit based in Catawba County Schools and is supported by the North Carolina Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education (SMT) Center in Durham, North Carolina. 

Insights: North Carolina’s STEM West hub successfully executed a convening representing all seven school systems, multiple universities, community colleges, non-profits, businesses & foundations in the region. The network was strengthened with a new partnership & grant writing partners were established with local science museums. The agenda and presentations from the gathering are shared in North Carolina’s report.

South Carolina: Local feedback session and new rural STEM effort – Download report

South Carolina’s Coalition for Mathematics & Science hosted a localized feedback session focused on rural STEM education with an emphasis on whole community engagement. Building off the Coalition’s prior success with the Grand Challenges format, the session was interactive. It drove toward the creation of at least one rural STEM education effort to increase knowledge and sustain community support. Through a previous STEMx Challenge Grant, the state identified five Grand Challenges for STEM in South Carolina. These included building awareness about STEM and engaging more people in STEM advocacy. This follow-on funding will enhance current efforts toward these ends. South Carolina’s Coalition for Mathematics & Science led the program. 

Insights: South Carolina hosted a rural STEM convening. An extensive preparation strategy included defining critical questions, selecting 175 key participants, and contacting participants with key guiding information including trends in STEM. The conference included: “heat maps” of existing rural STEM resources, deep dive sessions into five “Grand Challenges,” and commitments for May. South Carolina observed it was important for rural communities to hear & know about existing assets to continue making gains, not just gaps. Participants appreciated that they were not portrayed or perceived as “have nots” in the broader STEM ecosystem.

Virginia: As foundation state network grows, meetings in rural regions – Download report

To ensure the Virginia statewide STEM plan meets its goal of increasing equity and access in STEM education, state leaders felt it was important to hear directly from community members. This challenge grant will give citizens a voice and role in the development of this plan. With these supporting funds the Virginia STEM Coordinator, Chuck English, and the Virginia Department of Education STEM Director, Dr. Tina Manglicmot, sought to visit five rural regions and host sessions where stakeholders will have the opportunity to learn about the development of the plan and add their perspectives. This would build the communications network to foster future Virginia STEM developments. 

Insights: Following a detailed outline, Virginia conducted a series of meetings in rural communities. From these meetings, transportation emerged as a key barrier. State STEM representatives did manage to visit five planned locations, but an additional six events were canceled under the COVID-19 pandemic. However, communications continued in virtual formats. This work, and other efforts, have continued progress toward full release and implementation of the statewide Virginia STEM Plan. Updates on this progress are linked in Virginia’s full report.