STEM Learning Ecosystems



Frequently Asked Questions about the STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative

What is the STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative?

The STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative is a collection of like-minded partners preparing every child to thrive through high-quality science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. We cultivate and support nearly 55 Ecosystems, or organized local efforts across the country driven by collaboration among community partners to improve access to high-quality STEM learning for all students, no matter their ZIP code. This effort addresses the decided lack of coordination within the field, a challenge that has stalled progress in closing equity gaps and dramatically improving students’ STEM literacy. By relying on coordination between unlikely partners—such as school districts, teachers, parents, higher education institutions and informal STEM programs, to name a few—each Ecosystem can transform the local infrastructure for ensuring more students, particularly underserved and underrepresented students, develop the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

STEM Learning Ecosystems are grounded in the National Research Council’s Framework for K12 Science Education, Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments and Community Programs to Promote Youth Development, as well as other research about how young people learn and develop.

Who leads STEM Learning Ecosystems? Who are the partners? The Ecosystems?

The STEM Funders Network , comprised of more than 20 education-focused private and corporate foundations working together to increase the expertise of grant makers investing in STEM, launched the STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative in 2015 based on over a decade of research into successful STEM collaborations. Ron Ottinger (STEM Next), Gerald Solomon (Samueli Foundation) and Jan Morrison (TIES) serve as co-directors for the Initiative.

In September 2015, the SFN announced the pilot cohort of 27 Ecosystems, followed by additional cohorts over the next two years. The Community of Practice consists of the 56 STEM Learning Ecosystems. For a breakdown by cohort and description of each STEM Learning Ecosystem.

How are individual Ecosystems funded?

Individual Ecosystems are self-funded. The STEM Funders Network and STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative fund technical assistance and participation in Community of Practice capacity-building work, including attendance at convenings.

The first cohort received small grants each, but the Initiative does not directly fund local Ecosystems. Separately, several STEM Funders Network members choose to support their local Ecosystems.

Can any organization join a local Ecosystem?

Local Ecosystems self-organize and manage their own structure and operations. Ecosystems tend to be quite inclusive, given their emphasis on partnership building and collaboration to achieve ambitious goals. In fact, the Initiative selected Ecosystems that specifically demonstrated an ability to grow their local network through stakeholder outreach, among other criteria.

How does the STEM Learning Ecosystems’ model differ from other national STEM initiatives?

The STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative is unique in its emphasis on collective knowledge and action, and its focus on transforming systems and funding models. The STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative facilitates frequent opportunities for each of the 56 individual Ecosystems to communicate and learn from one another in order to maximize local results and create a shared narrative around the importance of STEM education for all. Unlike other national STEM initiatives, the STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative is agnostic when it comes to local models—by design, individual Ecosystems determine and drive their own model based on what is best for their community. By empowering individual Ecosystems to re-envision the infrastructure through which students access high-quality STEM learning, our efforts can dramatically improve the way young people experience STEM education in and out of school.

Why is it important to cultivate and support local Ecosystems?

Local stakeholders know what is best for their community. And yet, there are untapped opportunities for local, regional and state school systems and community organizations to work together to provide high- quality STEM education for more students, particularly underserved and underrepresented students. Barriers to collaboration often include lack of time and resources, and lack of infrastructure. The STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative provides the necessary support to help local stakeholders with a common goal align their resources and efforts to maximize results for kids, teachers and parents—and to create systemic change in how the community prepares students for success through STEM.

How does the STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative select local Ecosystems to support?

Using a series of critical attributes as a rubric, the STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative selected the first cohort of local Ecosystems in September 2015 based on an RFP process. Selected Ecosystems demonstrated they were anchored by a passionate leader(s) with a collaborative vision and practice; attentive to the enlightened self-interest of all partners; and supported by philanthropic and public sector funding and in-kind resources. The second cohort of local Ecosystems was selected in May 2016 based on similar critical attributes dictated in an RFP, as well as demonstrated growth from the prior year. In 2017, the third cohort of local Ecosystems was announced following an open application process. Learn more about the critical attributes.

What does the STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative envision for the next phase of STEM awareness in the U.S.?

Our nation is finally heeding the call for greater support for student proficiency in STEM, particularly for underserved and under- represented students. In the coming years, we will see silos breaking down across education, business and community leadership so that all stakeholders with a common vision can work together to maximize STEM learning and exploration for all students and prepare all young people to meet the demands of 21st century jobs. Local communities will drive innovative programs and delivery systems to support teachers, students and parents, while national philanthropies and policymakers will work to scale models that move the needle in student achievement. Of course, the nation will continue to tackle challenges in equity, career pathways and alignment between classrooms and out-of-school opportunities for students. The STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative looks forward to empowering local Ecosystems that will lead this important work, community by community.