National initiative taps KU’s Kansas Enrichment Network-backed ecosySTEM KC

Friday, September 11, 2015

Metro Kansas City program selected from invited pool of more than 70 applicants

LAWRENCE — One of the hottest topics in youth development is Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Research consistently demonstrates both the vital need for STEM fluency in the future workforce and the positive effects STEM learning has on youth outcomes.

With support from the Noyce Foundation, the University of Kansas-based Kansas Enrichment Network (KEN) has integrated STEM learning into out-of-school programs across the state. Now, KEN is partnering with the Kansas City STEM Alliance and the Mid-America Regional Council and Science Pioneers to lead ecosySTEM KC, an enterprise that bridges state lines to include students in Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo.

“Youth in out-of-school programs improve work habits, academic performance and classroom attendance; adding STEM learning to these programs results in improved attitudes toward STEM fields and careers, increased STEM capacities and skills, and higher likelihood of graduation and pursuing a STEM career,” said Dvorak, who is based at the Center for Public Partnerships & Research (CPPR), part of KU’s Achievement & Assessment Institute.

The project already has earned national recognition: In early September, the Washington D.C.-based STEM Funders Network (SFN) tapped ecosySTEM KC as one of 27 projects nationwide that will pilot its STEM Ecosystems Initiative. Built on more than a decade of research into successful STEM collaborations, SFN seeks to nurture and scale effective STEM learning opportunities for all young people.

Launched in Denver at the Clinton Global Initiative, SFN’s STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative will form a national Community of Practice with expert coaching and support from leaders such as superintendents, scientists, industry and others. In November, the White House will host the first gathering of this Community of Practice.

“As part of the pilot national cohort, we’ll have access to expertise that will help strengthen our work,” Dvorak said. “We plan to bring educators and businesses together to advocate for and implement novel approaches to STEM learning. We’ve been able to push our STEM work along and make it integral to out-of-school programs across the state of Kansas. We are excited about the work ahead with our Kansas City partners.”

SFN’s goal for the pilot program is to help successfully implement systemic STEM learning opportunities that can be replicated in more communities across the United States. The 27 communities comprising the initial cohort of a national Community of Practice have demonstrated cross-sector collaborations to deliver rigorous, effective preK-16 instruction in STEM learning in schools and beyond the classroom—in out-of-school and summer programs, at home, and in science centers, libraries and other places both virtual and physical.

“These innovative communities are providing STEM learning opportunities for millions of young people both in- and out-of-school,” said SFN co-chairs Gerald Solomon, executive director, Samueli Foundation, and Ron Ottinger, executive director, Noyce Foundation. “It is an initiative to design the kind of infrastructure that ensures that STEM learning is truly ‘everywhere’ and is a top priority for communities supporting youth to develop the skills and knowledge they need for success in a global workforce.”  

As these STEM Ecosystems evolve, Dvorak said, students connect what they learn in and out of school with real-world learning opportunities, perhaps leading to STEM-related careers.

“These programs spark young people's engagement, develop their knowledge, strengthen their persistence and nurture their sense of identity and belonging in the STEM disciplines,” Dvorak said. “Those of us in universities certainly understand the positive impact STEM initiatives have on young people, and we are committed to strengthening these types of educational outreach. At KU, we have a strong support system that includes interdisciplinary experts across the Lawrence campus and including the Kansas Center for STEM Learning on KU’s Edwards Campus. We believe interdisciplinary engagement deepens and enriches our abilities to create and offer best-practice learning opportunities for these young students.”

About ecosySTEM KC
KC STEM Alliance, Kansas Enrichment Network, Mid-America Regional Council and Science Pioneers serve as lead partners responsible for engaging the community in the ecosySTEM KC initiative. Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium, PrepKC, Science City and KC Digital Drive commit to providing their expertise and enthusiasm.  Partners plan to focus ecosySTEM KC on the two largest urban public school districts – Kansas City, Missouri (KCPS) and Kansas City, Kansas (KCKPS) Public Schools. 

Kansas City offers a vibrant, active and growing STEM community providing activities and educational opportunities across the area. Many STEM-related organizations already work together well, but a system-wide, seamless structure is still emerging.  The proposed ecosySTEM KC will provide an opportunity to establish a clear vision, uniform collaboration and shared outcomes that can be replicated, sustained and reach all youth.

Having access to technical support and expertise to help knit together all of these partners and programs will move Kansas City to the next level and provide the educators, youth and families with a coordinated approach to STEM education.

Additional supporting partners in ecosySTEM KC’s selection included (in alphabetical order):  American Royal, Black & Veatch, Burns & McDonnell, Cerner, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, KC FIRST, KC PLTW, KC Public Libraries, KC Rising, KC Zoo, LINC, Minddrive, MO Math and Science Coalition, University of Kansas Center for STEM Learning, University of Missouri Kansas City School of Computing and Engineering, and West Central Missouri AHEC.

About the STEM Funders Network
The SFN was formed in 2011 by a small group of funders from the Grant Makers for Education community to focus attention and better coordinate funding in support of robust STEM programs across the country. The SFN members fund individually as well as collectively and their work has supported the adoption and implementation of NGSS in all 50 states as well as dozens of STEM programs of promise.

Ecosystem funding members of the STEM Funders Network include: Samueli Foundation, Noyce Foundation, Overdeck Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, and Simons Foundation with support by Amgen Foundation, Broadcom Foundation, KDK Foundation, Pinkerton Foundation, and Tiger Woods Foundation.

About CPPR
One of the KU Achievement & Assessment Institute’s four research centers, CPPR assists partners with addressing complex social issues through research and evaluation, systems development, professional development, technical assistance and performance management systems. CPPR currently has more than 50 grants in the areas of early childhood, child welfare, child-abuse prevention, K-12 education and at-risk families. CPPR staff members have extensive experience working collaboratively with state, federal, and community-based organizations to drive research, build capacity, and make big changes possible. Strong partnerships with the Kansas Children's Cabinet & Trust Fund, Kansas Department of Health & Environment, Kansas State Department of Education and the Kansas Health Foundation result in innovations, positive change, and support for at-risk children, youth and families across the state.



Media Contact
Bill Woodard
Communications Manager
Achievement & Assessment Institute
The University of Kansas | 785.864.1680

KU Today
One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
5th nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets: Colleges," Military Times