PA STEM Vision Conference: Setting the Stage for Collective Impact

What happens when schools, universities, nonprofits, and corporate partners get together to set a statewide agenda for STEM Education?

The five conditions of collective impact are a common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication and backbone support. On May 9, approximately 650 conference attendees from schools, universities, nonprofits and corporations from across the state (and beyond) set the stage for collective impact as they convened in Pittsburgh with a common goal: To advance STEM education and increase economic vitality in Pennsylvania.

ASSET STEM Education partnered with Norwin School District, Pittsburgh Technology Council and Philadelphia Education Fund to host the PA STEM Vision Conference: Connecting Classroom to Career, gathering hundreds of Pennsylvania STEM stakeholders at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The creativity, innovation and exchanging of ideas happening throughout the day amazed me — I was surrounded by passionate individuals eager to network and learn. This passion is evident in feedback received from conference participants.Panel Discussion at PA STEM Vision Conference

“I was able to make some great connections with some very passionate educators and professionals. Getting beyond the ‘things’ to bring back to the region and focusing on the ‘ideas’ to bring back to the region is what is really powerful,” explained attendee Brian Crawford.

Crawford, Program Manager for Learning Resources at the CA BOCES Learning Resource Center in Allegany, New York, traveled to Pennsylvania for the conference in search of comprehensive models for K-12 STEM learning.

“The conference was very beneficial to me… I am on a committee of teachers that is looking into STEM and how we can incorporate it into our curriculum,” said Cecilia Lange, a 4th grade math and science teacher.

At the conference, participants engaged in breakout sessions, an interactive forum, networking and more. Keynote speakers in the morning and a STEM stakeholders panel in the afternoon provided business, government and education perspectives on workforce development, cross-sector partnerships and bridging the skills gap. Panelist Dr. Ted Frick from Bayer MaterialScience LLC summed up the STEM skills demand well when he described how Bayer is looking for employees who are active learners, possessing skills such as problem solving, creativity, communication and team building. Most of all, keynotes and panelists repeatedly emphasized collaboration between school districts, post-secondary institutions, informal education programs and businesses to develop innovative college- and career-readiness strategies for students.

In the 24 available breakout sessions throughout the day, presenters shared best practices for STEM education and classroom to career connections. Schools like South Fayette Intermediate School demonstrated examples of project-based learning in their classrooms. Panelists in Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s session “EC4: Educator/Corporate Collaboration on the Common Core” shared how corporate/education partnerships allowed for “aha” moments for educators on the importance of communication/team-building skills in the workforce.

In the interactive forum, participants discovered further examples of cross-sector partnerships and innovative programs already in place through CREATE Lab, The Sprout Fund, Thermo Fisher Scientific, WQED and more. “It’s rather fun to walk around from booth to booth or from session to session and see things that you know students and teachers in New York would be excited about,” said Crawford. “The forum allowed us to explore model programs…we identified an elementary school committed to STEM that we hope to visit in the future,” said participant Michelle Kavanaugh, Ed.D.

Educators explore GigaPan imagery / Photo courtesy ASSET, Inc.I was incredibly excited and encouraged by the conference’s turnout  – attendance grew from 500 for 2013’s conference to this year’s 650, and portrayed important work from across the state from all advocates. Involving all stakeholders, from educators to Pennsylvania policymakers, is an integral part of advancing education and increasing economic vitality for all students across the commonwealth.

This conference was just the beginning of leveraging Pennsylvania’s collective strengths. I’m excited to see how advocacy and the sharing of promising tools and practices will continue through initiatives such as the PA STEMx™ Network, which focuses on preparing all Pennsylvanians with the STEM skills necessary to live a life of opportunity and success in the state’s thriving economy.

Most importantly, the conference focused on the solutions, not just the problems. “Based on comments from participants and presenters, we are all dealing with the same challenges of implementation, budget support and engaging meaningful business partnerships. The Conference validated our sense of momentum and hope, despite the challenges. Sharing is important across boundaries,” stated Kavanaugh.

Focusing on collective impact will help us further advance opportunities for all students. I look forward to where the conversation will take us next!

Published May 30, 2014