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Time: 2:40 PM – 3:25 PM

Abstract:  

The most essential part of a natural ecosystem is accessibility of resources. If organisms within  an ecosystem are not able to access the resources they need; they must adapt, leave or perish.  Within our STEM ecosystem, The Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance, our assumptions regarding  accessibility were challenged during the first two years of the pandemic. Quickly realizing we  can no longer conduct our programming the same as in years past, we had to critically evaluate  the ways in which we provide access to our STEM opportunities. No longer could we rely on  larger venues to bring more kids to STEM, we needed a way to get STEM to them! Through the  use of innovative virtual programs and STEM kits called STEM in a Bag, we impacted record  breaking numbers in 2020 and 2021, found a new niche for these programs and have evolved  as an ecosystem thinking more critically about how we provide pathways for accessibility in our  ecosystem. 

Be sure to join us for an interactive session discussing these exciting initiatives including trying  out a STEM in a Bag for yourself, gaining tools and resources to take back to your own  ecosystem and connecting with each other about how we can successfully adapt the ways in  which we provide STEM opportunities in our ecosystem to better provide STEM for ALL. 

Outline:  

The Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance (TRSA) believes STEM is for Everyone, STEM is Everywhere  and All are Welcome. With the onset of the pandemic, everything we once knew changed. We  quickly needed to adapt, including thinking critically about accessibility. No longer can we rely  on larger venues to bring more kids to STEM, we needed a way to get STEM to them. Through  the use of innovative virtual programs and STEM kits called STEM in a Bag, we impacted record  breaking numbers in 2020 and 2021, found a new niche for these programs and have evolved  as an ecosystem thinking more critically about how we provide pathways for accessibility in our  ecosystem. 

Accessibility through Virtual Programming: With the onset of the global pandemic, we quickly  turned all programming virtual, using Google Sites and thinking how to make STEM accessible 

for students and educators with and without internet or device access. Through our partnership  with districts, industry and informal education partners; we impacted over 150,000 students  and over 1000 educators in 2020, beyond our previous year goals. Through the use of the event  sites, we were able to provide students access to more STEM professionals using Zoom, FlipGrid  and YouTube. Not only did we provide programming to more students, we were able to provide  access to students, families and teachers whereas geographic barriers would typically prohibit  participation. Suddenly, our rural communities were able to access our resources more than  ever before.  

Accessibility through STEM in a Bag: Upon talking to districts about their need for STEM  activities they can take home, we quickly realized our STEM in a Bag kits could be a great  resource. STEM in a Bag kits are small take-home STEM activities that cost around $1.00 to  $2.00 per bag and include all the materials, learning connections and background information  needed to complete at home. Through the continued development and use of STEM in a Bag  kits, we are able to highlight diverse STEM pioneers through engaging STEM activities all packed  neatly inside a gallon-sized baggie while going from giving out 1,000-2,000 bags in 2019 to  handing out over 70,000 in 2020 and continuing that trend to today. 

Community Impact: In the process of building the websites and STEM in a bag, volunteers and  partners who were once unable to participate stepped up to build bags and create videos.  Suddenly, we realized these changes also made mentorship and volunteering more accessible  to those in our ecosystem looking to make a huge impact from the safety of their own living  room. 

Moving Forward towards STEM for All: Maxim capacity is no longer the primary restriction on  events, with STEM in a Bag and virtual programming creating impactful learning extensions; we  are able to reach more students, families and teachers than ever before in even more impactful  ways. Even with returning to face to face programming in 2022, the lessons learned in 2020  and 2021 regarding adaptation and accessibility continue to direct our work. Now, moving  forward recognizing there are more ways we can impact our ecosystem through Advisory  Council listening sessions, STEM Hubs, online summer curriculum and continuing ways to  include virtual programs and STEM in a Bag we are better equipped to provide STEM for  Everyone, STEM Everywhere and ensure All are Welcome.

Main Objectives: The main learning objectives of this session will include the issue of  accessibility both during the pandemic and afterwards. How to become responsive and  resilient as an ecosystem when faced with adversity and embracing a growth mindset mentality  to promote innovation during difficult times as a non-profit and ecosystem. We will also  provide pragmatic solutions to some of the challenges regarding accessibility including our  virtual programs and STEM in a Bag that have been in operation since 2020 plus some new  initiatives aimed at increasing ecosystem engagement through restructured Advisory Councils,  establishing STEM Hubs and online summer camp curriculum, grants and training. 

Session Engagement: We definitely believe in learning through action. To truly understand a  STEM in a Bag, one must try one! We will bring some of our STEM in a Bag for participants to  take part in a hands-on, minds-on exploration of this kit plus organize the session as a series of  roundtable discussions or activities in which participants will be able to have small group  discussion then share aloud main takeaways. Starting with introductions and overview of our  main issue regarding our bias towards accessibility in our ecosystem, we will provide an  overview for both our virtual program and STEM in a Bag program. Towards the middle of the  program we will take 30 minutes for roundtable discussions/activities, we will initiate  discussion regarding issues of accessibility within ecosystems and practical potential solutions  to accessibility barriers. The final 10 minutes will be spent in a group reflection and highlighting  some initiatives we have started in 2022 as a result of our growing awareness of access issues.