The recognition of the importance of STEM in education has been growing for some time. STEM careers are the highest-paying jobs and in much demand. Our region has the biggest gaps in Information Technology (computers), Advanced Manufacturing, and Health Care. Nearly half that declare a STEM major switch majors or drop out before graduation and we need to address this. Preparation begins much earlier. Taking college preparatory math and sciences in high school is an important foundation for a STEM major. And in turn, algebra by 8th grade allows 4 years to take more advanced mathematics in high school. And even earlier, 4th-grade reading ability is an indicator of likely success in math and sciences. We call this progression of academic preparation the STEM pipeline.
The educational system is working hard to instill new curriculum with higher standards and improve graduation rates. While they continue to advance education for our students, there remains a need for experiences that turns kids onto STEM. Research shows hands-on, real-world activities and experiments make math and science approachable and quite simply FUN! These authentic STEM experiences can help reengage students in STEM subjects and spark interest in STEM careers. Authentic experiences are therefore where the GCSC decided to focus first.
P&G’s recognized the need for STEM talent in our Greater Cincinnati workforce and generously provided seed funding. Strive Partnership, the GCSC’s current physical agent, was also in the initial discussions as a driving force to improve education. It has been clear from the start that the challenge to improve the STEM talent pipeline will require all the relevant parties to work together. As we like to say, “It takes a village.” The GCSC launched in July of 2011 with the support of these forward thinking organizations. The GCSC was created as a collaborative with the mission to stimulate and facilitate the partnerships. In short, STEM needs a village and the GCSC is bringing the village.
Since its inception, the GCSC has established and is starting to scale after school programs focused on authentic STEM experiences. The GCSC started that first year with a demonstration project xxxxx. By January of 2013 there were five demonstration projects underway. That more than doubled the next year with 11 projects involving over 1300 students, 500 educators and mentor and over 70 partnering organizations. The number and effectiveness of these programs are continuing to expand.
Over these four years, the GCSC has learned some important lessons that have shaped our approach to building a strong regional collaboration. The GCSC has found a cross-functional leadership team with diversity of experiences and skills leads to innovative thinking. The GCSC leadership “Circle” backgrounds span education, nonprofit, government and business. It is a flat organization that seeks to leverage all these skills in a fluid and efficient way. The same philosophy is applied to our Advisory Board that has representatives of all the above and more. Our authentic experiences have been born from this cross-discipline collaboration. For example the STEM Bicycle Club idea was the result of a meeting with community partners and Circle leadership from the business sector.
This leads to our second lesson learned. We start our programs out small with one school and limited funding until we demonstrate it has a positive effect on attitudes toward and mastery of STEM skills. Once it passes this test, we begin scaling it and we find having data to support the value of the program gives funders confidence in their investments. The GCSC is still making history and we have bigger and bolder plans for the coming years.