What if rural middle and high school students had opportunities to get involved in STEM during their free time the way that they get involved in sports? What if there were clubs, library programs, events, and contests that gave young people opportunities to grow their science skills, deepen their passions, and become team players?
These opportunities already exist throughout rural areas. The NSF-funded STEM Guides project creates and studies an innovative model of capacity-building for out-of-school STEM learning. Small networks of embedded STEM Guides are trained to identify these existing STEM resources in their regions, and to connect interested youth with them in creative ways. This project supports STEM learning in underserved rural communities that lack traditional resources like science centers.
The project is implementing and studying the networks in five Maine low-income, rural regions, which we call STEM hubs, providing resources and professional development with the goal that each STEM network will become self-sustaining. The project’s goal is to vastly increase the frequency and depth of out-of-school STEM experiences for 3,000 youth aged 10-18 at a relatively low cost, creating a national model for STEM capacity-building. Led by MMSA, the project includes strong partnerships with 4-H, Axiom Education and Training Center, and Maine Maritime Academy as collaborators. EDC is the primary external evaluator.
Recent accomplishments of the STEM Guides project include a robust and expanding Teen Science Cafe network in Maine, and ongoing very popular and successful afterschool STEM programs in central Lincoln County and Dexter.
The MMSA leadership team for this project includes Dr. Jan Mokros (PI) and Dr. Sue Allen (co-PI), working with the teams of STEM Guides based in each of the STEM Hubs. In addition to MMSA staff members listed below, three STEM Guides in the Machias Hub work through our Axiom partner.
STEM Guides host proven programs (e.g., Teen Science Cafe, Engineering Everywhere) in local places such as libraries and connect these vetted STEM Gift Packages with community STEM opportunities. Afterschool STEM clubs are running in two of the hubs, led by STEM Guides. This project ensures that youth have more than “one shot” experiences by connecting the dots between community and library-based STEM programs, online resources, and local events. The project also developed and collaborates with MMSA’s Reach Center project on a Maine-based STEM Resource Bank, which will integrate with The Connectory (www.TheConnectory.org) this summer.
This project was funded through NSF’s AISL (Advancing Informal STEM Learning) program in 2013. The 5-year project has worked in four regions in Maine: Blue Hill, Dexter/Dover, Central Lincoln County, and the greater Machias area. A fifth Hub is being added very soon. Dr. Sue Allen presented early results of the work focused on increasing youth engagement in out-of-school STEM, as part of a panel of national experts discussing “Expanding Access to STEM Learning” at the National Summit for Successful Out-of-School STEM Learning in 2014. The advisors to the project, nationally recognized experts in rural education, STEM education, the use of technology in education, and science outside of school, met to help plan the next steps of the project in August 2014 and continue to support this research. Dr. Jan Mokros presented is the session “Lessons Learned and Future Directions for Federally-Funded STEM Programs” at the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) fall conference in October 2015.
The STEM Guides project works closely with MMSA’s Reach Center project, which also connects youth ages 10-18 with STEM opportunities outside of school.