STEM System-Building Initiative
United Way of Rhode Island believes that STEM is more than engagement in science, technology, engineering, or math classroom work. It is a hands-on, active skill set which children can use to explore the world. A STEM literate child is able to use skills gained from exposure to science, technology, engineering and math, such as problem solving, critical thinking, and observation, and apply them to real world settings; preparing them for an increasingly STEM-centric world. The ALC envisions a Rhode Island in which every school-age student in the state has access to high-quality STEM opportunities in their community during out-of-school time.
Since 2014, the ALC has been working to transform this vision into a reality. So far our work, through the support of the Noyce Foundation and the Afterschool Alliance AmeriCorps VISTA STEM Expansion Project, has laid a foundation for a statewide STEM afterschool system by providing resources, professional development, and training to programs and by creating a community of practice for out-of-school-time educators. Our future work seeks to build out this system to be more inclusive and to provide even more STEM-rich resources to the afterschool field.
Utilidata STEM Design It! Curriculum and Toolkits
Utilidata’s generous gift in the spring of 2015 went toward purchasing the Design It! STEM curriculum and supplies to perform the exercises, which were distributed to ten afterschool programs in Rhode Island, spanning twenty four sites statewide. Many sites used the tool kits to serve as a foundation as they broke ground on STEM programming, while others were excited for the opportunity to expand with ease on the STEM work they were already doing. Approximately 400 Rhode Island youth, ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade, were engaged in fun hands-on learning and pushed boundaries in the activities, often coming to their own conclusions that differed from the suggested “outcome.”
Recipients of the curriculum and toolkits became part of the STEM Peer Learning Community (PLC), organized and run by United Way. The STEM PLC is a cohort of afterschool professionals that continues to meet bimonthly to share best practices and collaborate on topics related to informal STEM education. The ALC was also able to leverage Utilidata’s gift to offer the cohort free access to training and certification with a program evaluation tool, Dimensions of Success, to further enhance their professional skills and program quality.
Women’s Leadership Council (now Women United) STEM Expansion Grant
Beginning in September of 2015, three afterschool agencies were funded in the second iteration of the Women’s Leadership Council STEM Expansion Grant to improve their STEM educational opportunities for youth in Rhode Island and to recruit and retain more young girls. The grantees–DownCity Design, the Community Boating Center, and the YWCA of Rhode Island—have all been working collaboratively throughout the year with the personalized support of a Technical Assistant, Amy Leidtke. Amy is an accomplished industrial designer and educational consultant with a record of success combining a variety of disciplines, including participatory design workshops and strategic planning. Throughout the course of the year, Amy has helped the three grantees to creatively think through ways to uniquely improve their STEM programs and to make them more inclusive for young girls. The work will conclude in September of 2016 with a cumulative and collaborative report.
Girls in STEM Evening Mini-Conference
United Way of Rhode Island hosted a “Girls in STEM” themed evening mini-conference in April of 2016. The goal of the event was to acknowledge and discuss the barriers that exist for girls in STEM fields, and to provide a space for educators to collaborate to identify ways to help girls overcome these challenges.
The event opened with a brief keynote by Amy Leidtke, technical assistant for the WLC STEM Grant, industrial designer, and thinker. A panel of female STEM professionals followed, including Jill Pipher of the Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics at Brown University and WLC Executive Committee Member, Ilona Miko of MikoArtScience, Judith Shepherd of Blue Cross Blue Shield, Simone Palmer of the Rhode Island Department of Education, and Melita Morales of DownCity Design served as the moderator. After the panel, the participants broke out into two interactive professional development workshops.
The mini-conference was a way to open up the conversation around girls in STEM to the afterschool field. The ALC hopes to continue to cultivate this conversation and to promote inclusiveness in STEM disciplines across Rhode Island.
STEM Peer Learning Community
The STEM Peer Learning Community has continued to meet, and will continue to meet throughout the course of the 2016-2017 school year. In the spring of 2016, the Peer Learning Communities took the form of share-and-tell where participants shared out to their peers on their strengths in STEM education and facilitated conversation amongst the group. The STEM PLC meetings are open to any and all informal and afterschool educators to come and learn from one another.
STEM Professional Development
STEM has become a staple in our professional development offerings. The ALC professional development calendar always includes a STEM themed workshop, and this year we will be hosting another STEM themed mini-conference in the spring.
The ALC STEM work is couched within the broader STEM ecosystem, and we partner with a variety of organizations and agencies to advance STEM learning for all youth in Rhode Island:
- Rhode Island STEAM Center at Rhode Island College
- Providence Afterschool Alliance
- Rhode Island Science Educators Community Leadership Team through RIDE
- Afterschool Alliance
- Women United