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Transforming STEM Education Access Challenges into Amazing Opportunities for Youth and Families



Roadmaps for Meeting Needs for Vulnerable Family Populations

Family Engagement Panel by Louisiana based organizations at the Spring 2019 STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice Convening in New Orleans, LA in April 2019.

Speakers: Kim Fossey, GEN READY: Louisiana Capital Area STEM Ecosystem; Summer Dann, East Baton Rouge Parish School District/GEN READY; Ben, East Baton Rouge Parish School District ; Heather Kleiner, SciPort, North Louisiana STEM Alliance; Dr. Calvin Mackie, STEM NOLA

This panel showcased lessons learned from expanded education and post-secondary training programs in New Orleans and Baton Rouge working with vulnerable and/or underserved populations. 

To engage families effectively, the three programs summarized below found the following keys to success: building authentic partnerships; understanding and considering the culture of target populations in planning, execution and communications; being a visible leader and contributor in the community; and ensuring that all work was intentional, authentic and consistent, especially in working with historically marginalized populations.

SciPort Discovery Center’s Bars without Barriers

Bars without Barriers uses STEM as a platform to help fathers at a local correctional facility reconnect with their children and families, both while in prison and after their release. The program was co-designed with inmates, correctional facility deputies, families and caregivers. Twelve sessions are provided that alternate between professional development and skill building for inmates. Father then apply their newly acquired STEM skills with their children. The program leverages activities from SciPort’s Science is Everywhere program, which increases accessibility to STEM by using everyday items, so that families and children can continue learning together. Review a presentation about Bars without Barriers here. 

SeaTech program

SeaTech is a career and technical center for high school students, both complementing and supplementing a traditional high school experience. Students spend half days at their home high school and the other half at SeaTech getting technical training and focused STEM education geared towards preparing students for local tech jobs. The programs provides stability for high mobility students that would otherwise have their educations disrupted by moving from school zones throughout the year and education careers. SeaTech aims to: give traditionally underserved populations access to quality programs; provide students with a state-funded credential they can use for entering the workforce; provide stability to students from low to moderate income backgrounds who experience 50% mobility throughout the year; and elevate the perception of high school career tech programs by providing quality programming in a 21st century facility that will lead to purposeful work. 


STEM NOLA was started after Calvin Mackie and his wife, Tracy, realized that their son’s friends didn’t have the same opportunities to learn as he did. The Mackies had been doing STEM experiments in their garage, giving their son all sorts of hands-on learning experiences.

STEM NOLA was created to spread, expand the reach and engage communities in hands-on STEM learning. “I don’t believe STEM is the issue. The issue is how do we reach people where they are and speak to them in any way so they acknowledge us and respond to us,” says Dr. Mackie.

By hosting events almost every Saturday, K-12 students and their families to have the opportunity to learn with hands-on STEM activities. STEM professionals, teachers, and skilled-tradesmen volunteer to demonstrate real-world connections to the learning. The program also features college student volunteers with older students modeling and supporting learning for younger students of all ages.

Communication needs to be consistent and relevant 

All panelists discussed the communications and outreach strategies used to market programs, stressing the importance of sharing messaging about why these programs are critical. Messaging needs to contain specifics, explained in easy to understand terms, of what programming can mean for students panelists echoed. 

All community partners need to be on board with community needs and the best way to approach families. Our challenge is to get higher education institutions to understand about vulnerable communities is that you have to be intentional and consistent,” says Dr. Mackie.