Catching up with the STEAM Ecosystem

It takes a lot to bring Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math together to remake learning for each and every student. Catch up on how educators, researchers, and community builders are doing it as part of the STEAM Ecosystem.

The great questions of the future—responding to climate change, managing natural resources, living with artificial intelligence—will demand decision-makers with strong grasp of science, technology, engineering, and math. Even young people who aren’t destined for careers in STEM fields will need to be STEM literate.

Then there is the economic imperative. STEM jobs are growing faster than those in other professions, but many American students—particularly students of color, low-income students, and girls—do not end up in the STEM workforce. Young people are interested in science—but without engaging, accessible learning experiences, that interest wanes and they miss opportunities for success.

LaTrenda Leonard Sherrill

The Pittsburgh Regional STE(A)M Ecosystem is working to cultivate diverse and equitable high-quality STEM and STEAM learning opportunities.

LaTrenda Leonard Sherrill leads the STEAM Ecosystem. Over the past two years, she’s coordinated a cross-sector regional response to pressing needs and promising opportunities in the STEM education and employment.

First of all, congratulations on the news of the NSF grant for STEM PUSH! What should people know about this project and its potential impact in the region?

It’s great news. The National Science Foundation is granting $10 million to support a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh, the STEM Learning Ecosystem Community of Practice, and Remake Learning to build “Pathways for Underrepresented Students in HigherEd,” hence the PUSH.It really shows that people are understanding this as a system-change effort. Lots of other ecosystems in the national STEM Ecosystems community of practice have already reached out. Our region has a great opportunity to lead on this.

Of course, Pitt is leading the work through their BE STEM center. The fact that they have been able to connect community, system-change, and improvement science all in one project—this is exactly why we take a network approach. No one single entity can do it alone. It’s super connected work and I’m happy our ecosystem is involved.

More on the STEM PUSH Network

Over the course of five years, a Pitt research team will work with the STEM Learning Ecosystem Community of Practice, a national system of STEM programming, to create what the NSF calls the STEM PUSH Network — Pathways for Underrepresented Students to HigherEd. The team’s end goal is to address enrollment gaps on multiple levels by getting more underrepresented students to enroll in pre-college programs, study STEM areas in college and get related jobs after graduation.

from Pitt News

What’s the STEAM Ecosystem learning about how STEM subjects are taught in schools in our region?

Last year, I was having a conversation with Yael Silk about observations and evaluations she had done of space-design projects. She was telling me about the tool she created and we talked about the ways it could relate to STEM and how teachers are teaching STEM in the classroom.

Yael started working with the STEAM Ecosystem’s metrics committee and a set of ideas around program quality and evaluation emerged during the process of developing the metrics action plan. Specifically, the metrics action plan highlights the following needs:

  • Learning more about STEM programs that already serve black and brown students
  • Identifying, adapting, and/or developing an evaluation tool that addresses quality
  • Building evaluation capacity among STEM ecosystem stakeholders
  • Providing constructive program quality feedback to STEM program directors and educators

These ideas have grown into what we are calling a STEAM Observation for Cultural Competency community of practice.

We will be observing local educators of color, that teach the majority of students of color. The goal is to develop a self-sustaining learning community with a focus on culturally responsive STEAM teaching and learning for black and brown students in the region. We ultimately would like to develop a publication of local promising practices of these great educators.

We have a number of folks in the STEAM Ecosystem who are interested in participating. We’re working with Dr. Gretchen Genertt who is helping us hone in on the protocol along with Yael.

We’re not sure what the outcome will look like, it could be a collection of case studies, but whatever it ends up being, we want to document and share with the rest of the network.

Earlier this fall, you attended the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice Convening in Cleveland. What can you share from that experience?

I attended along with a group of Remake Learning network members, including folks from the CREATE Lab, STEM Coding Labs, Trying Together, and more.

The beautiful thing about attending these convenings is that we have an opportunity to connect with other people doing this work, not just in a programmatic way, but looking at things at an ecosystems level.

The most important thing might be seeing how other regions are doing this work and realizing the ways that we need to do a better job.

For example, we need to get better connected with industry. If we look at similar ecosystems, that’s a huge weakness of ours, in comparison.

Second, we need to figure out the best way to communicate the STEM assets in our region and how people can find STEM happenings in Pittsburgh. We have a number of assets in our region, we should be able to draw people’s attention to.

Also, one unexpected opportunity was to connect with people from Pittsburgh I haven’t been able to link up with yet! There’s so much going on here, more than I knew.

Where is the Pittsburgh regional STEAM Ecosystem headed?

We’ve got our next meeting coming up on December 9th.

We’re going to talk about a number of things, including the STEM PUSH project at Pitt, the work of the outreach committee, and planning for 2020. We’re also going to be figuring out how to continue our work to be inclusive of stakeholders in physical and life sciences, how we’re approaching metrics for STEM in our region, and revisiting what we set out to do and what work we’ve actually done. It’s going to be a big moment.

Also in December, we’re expecting the next round of PASmart to be coming out, so we’re getting ready to make the most of that opportunity.

How could people learn more and get involved if they want to?

Head to, sign up for newsletter, or get in touch with me directly.

Published November 12, 2019