Highway to STEM Begins with a Good On Ramp

Highway to STEM Begins with a Good On Ramp

By Xan Black, Executive Director of the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance

The Journey

Thanks to the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Overdeck Foundation and the Harvard PEAR Institute, the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance (TRSA) had a chance to take a long look at our STEM journey.  We had the chance to invite outside experts into our living room and not only tell the stories of our journey as an ecosystem, but listen for and learn from each other’s memories of our STEM expedition.

Onramps = Access

One way that we classify STEM programming in TRSA is to think about whether the event is meant primarily to engage, equip, or empower students. We imagine equip programming as a variety of onramps that students use to access the STEM highway system. Onramps are short, you have to go slow, and you need a lot of them. It’s easy to take an Interstate point of view and dismiss the value of an on ramp in STEM education.

For most students, however, the beginning of a STEM career is a STEM onramp.

– Before going to college, a teacher or class got them interested in STEM. This is especially true of female students (68% vs. 51% males),
 who give “a teacher or class” as the top factor that sparked their interest.

Microsoft: STEM Perceptions Study


The Harvard PEAR study provided TRSA with a complex infrastructure map of the STEM ecosystem we are building together. TRSA has about one third each of engage, equip, and empower programming events.

We need more skill building experiences for students which are the expressways in this STEM mixmaster. We are working to increase the number and quality of interstate lanes that will provide STEM pathways for ALL STUDENTS to arrive at high-quality careers.

But it may just be that our greatest achievement and paradoxically our greatest need in achieving our vision of All Students STEM Ready is a robust system of well placed, clearly marked, recently resurfaced on ramps.