STEM Ecosystems: A Movement You Need to Be Part Of

Last week, the Ruben H. Fleet Center located in Balboa Park in San Diego hosted over 60 community leaders from industry and the education field to talk about STEM, (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and how important STEM was to America's future.

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President Obama, the U.S. Secretary of Education and others have been spreading the word. Last year, Obama said:

"[Science]"[Science] is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world..."

But the meeting in San Diego was not simply another awareness campaign extolling the virtues of STEM. Most of those in the room already knew what STEM was and were adopting ways to incorporate STEM into their area of endeavor. Rather, it was a meeting to introduce like minds to one another and look for ways to work together.

This was a meeting called by "STEM Ecosystems", a relatively new national effort, as Julie Stolzer, Director of Marketing for TIES (Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM) said "to keep science alive." But she wasn't hung up about the name.

Call it STEM, call it STEAM, call it Art Based Learning of STEM, as the National Science Foundation did in funding an experiment named as such. In fact, according to Ms. Stolzer, STEM could as easily stand for Strategies That Engage Minds.

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STEM Ecosystems, founded by several corporations and private foundations see the need for community-wide collaboration "among schools, out-of-school time programs, STEM expert institutions (such as museums, science centers, institutions of higher education and STEM professional associations), the private sector, community-based organizations, youth and families."

To date the organization has identified and working with 27 communities to develop their own local organization that strengthens the STEM work. While the ecosystems are still being put in place these methods of coordination and collaboration are showing promise, STEM is not just a word or an idea but an effort to change teaching and learning. To put it simply, this has to work.

The tech revolution is occurring at a pace and speed unparalleled in history and schools and whole communities -- including government agencies with responsibility for workforce preparedness, chambers of commerce, economic development agencies and other non profits concerned with our national economic readiness-- must find ways to not only insure STEM preparedness 24/7 but offer programs that are project based so our young people are "career and college ready."

According to the National Science Foundation:

"In the 21st century, scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly important as we face the benefits and challenges of both globalization and a knowledge-based economy. To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past."

There are so many silos standing like a picket fence to our progress in the new economy. We have yet to find the language to help more businesses, educators, parents and policymakers understand that STEM learning and STEM careers are critical to America's future.

STEM Ecosystems hopes to break the mold of a system of education we have grown accustomed to that simply will not work in today's technology-driven global economy. They have found the formula for communities to keep pace with change.

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