Xan Black and her colleagues at the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance (TRSA) have come to recognize a few simple truths about getting business leaders excited about investing in work that deepens and sustains family engagement.
- Know your audience and align your messaging accordingly.
- Evaluate, measure and track everything you do. Both qualitative and quantitative data reinforces your story and compels business to invest.
- Own your narrative. The work can be complicated sometimes, so tell the story of how investments are able to move students through complicated systems.
In its five years of existence, TRSA has developed strong relationships with businesses and funders to expand various STEM initiatives in the region.
Black explains that those relationships have evolved because funders have seen a return on their investment. “We just have to be careful in the way we talk to business because I think they have a lot of choices of how they can spend their money. So it’s important to be able to show ‘this is the difference your investments are making in the community’,” she said.
She says that she is quick to explain to companies that their next generation of workers are the ones being impacted by the STEM programming TRSA offers.
“A company’s No. 1 priority is to keep themselves in business and a part of that is finding their next line of employees. So, we say to them, ‘We are working with your next generation of employees now in school, help us reach them and prepare them for a future with you.’”
Black said this message resonates.. This is also where she is able to tie family engagement in for business and industry leaders. “We can link activities like summer camp to training grounds for future employees. Camp isn’t just a place to get the kid out of the house, but can be a place where they learn about what it takes to work for Williams or American Airlines. This gets the whole family excited about opportunities and gives them options beyond what they see on TV.”
Data to reinforce family engagement
TRSA collects data on the impact of their programs, as well as captures stories about student and family success to further articulate community significance. This helps create a narrative that business can get behind.
TRSA measures everything they do with a pre and post survey to see how programming has changed a child’s attitude in math or science. Additionally, they track the influence their educator professional development is having on the wider pool of students.
“For many businesses the number of students you serve is important and we track that. We can show them how interest in math and science generated from our programs will result in a larger talent pool for them in 10 years,” says Black. “With the support of ecosystem partners like the PEAR Institute, we can show that students leave our program with a new confidence that they can graduate high school.”
TRSA had to think differently when it came to showcasing the value of funding educator professional development. “We couldn’t undersell ourselves and make professional a separate or irrelevant thing. We might train 20 teachers, but those 20 teachers with hundreds of kids. If you do the math, those 20 teachers are actually impacting 2,000 students per year and that’s two thousand students for the rest of their career.”
The scale of just one gift can be transformative. The TRSA ecosystem connects the dots for business to see how their investment, no matter the size, is supporting students and their families.
Data also helps TRSA what is and is not working. By tracking engagement at events, TRSA has discovered which locations and times of the day are the most convenient for working families.
“We realized how foolish we had been hosting events at locations that families had to travel to,” says Black. “Once we shifted spaces to an elementary school or library more families could walk to the turn-out was much better. These stories have helped us build a case to get funding for transportation, food for events and made programming free for families.”
Being intentional – making STEM accessible for all families
The Tulsa community, including its business, is aware of the more systematic challenges many families face such as poverty and food insecurity.
“In my experience, business is most willing to invest when you are able to paint a picture of how their support will transform the community,” says Black. “By investing in TRSA, we show companies that they are able to train their future workforce, increase math achievement and do good in the community. Current employees will be proud to work with them because they are working at a place that cares about the community.”
TRSA understands that some families have constraints that won’t allow them to participate in events. The ecosystem looked at the promotion of STEM activities that could be done easily at home during everyday tasks.
“If mom or dad aren’t sure about the Archimedes principle, then that is never going to come up at dinner,” says Black. “We have come up with some inexpensive ways to engage families at home while they are washing the car or cleaning the dishes and it doesn’t require a laser cutter or an engineering degree. Even a parent mentioning that they ‘used to be excited about dinosaurs when they were the child’s age’ gives student’s important encouragement and doesn’t take any expertise.”
TRSA has collaborated with local Cox Media Group and radio shows to reinforce their message. “We spent time thinking about where families spend a lot of time together,” says Black. “We spend timed driving in the car or tuned into the TV so we used those times to show where different people in Tulsa were involved in STEM careers.”
Additionally, TRSA offers STEM Rx kits for families to do STEM activities in the waiting rooms of doctors offices. The ecosystem works with the YMCA and community centers to provide STEM activities for families waiting with younger kids while older children might be playing sports.
Mission: Building broad, deep and innovative STEM pathways for all students to access high-impact careers.
TRSA is an intermediary organization that is flexible and inclusive enough to welcome all community members yet includes sufficient structure and organizational support to facilitate and coordinate the work that needs to be done. The goals of TRSA are as follows:
- Calculate: Create common performance metrics for members that measure the efficacy of TRSA STEM programs and events.
- Communicate: Increase awareness and access to STEM resources and activities through a centralized information sharing network to inform TRSA stakeholders and STEM advocates in the Tulsa region.
- Collaborate: Use shared resources of all kinds to broaden the impact of TRSA’s dynamic “mesh network” of STEM community members.
- Cultivate: Grow the STEM ecosystem in northeastern Oklahoma through robust support and initiation of STEM education events and activities while securing resources necessary for TRSA’s initiatives: Funding, Programming, Professional Development, Tulsa Resource Area for STEM Educators (TRASE) and Mentorship.