9 partners pool collective experience, efforts at conference to address STEM concerns

National Science Foundation grant supports summit
Posted at 12:00 PM, Apr 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-19 12:00:34-04

CINCINNATI -- When Kathie Maynard invited representatives from a variety of community sectors to a recent summit to help tackle the problem of diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), she didn't sugarcoat anything.

After all, it is a messy problem: There are several groups of students who tend not to pursue STEM careers, which are both high-paying and in-demand. As a result, women, minorities, first-generation college students, those with physical handicaps and anyone who is financially disadvantaged remain vastly underrepresented in science, technology, advanced manufacturing, engineering, math and health careers.

She warned that the work at the three-day NEXTLIVESHERE: Social Change Innovation Summit would be unrelenting. But that's what it takes to make real social change happen, according to Maynard, assistant dean for innovations and community partnerships at UC's College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services.

It also takes collective impact, an approach to tackling complex social problems that occurs when different sectors in a community work collectively.

"So often, those of us who work in nonprofit sectors work alone in our silos. Collectively, we need to bring expertise from all those sectors together and work on real solutions for our kids," she said.

Nine partners with more than 10 years of experience in collective impact came together to create the conference, which was funded by the National Science Foundation.

It was designed not to be a conversation-starter or panel of experts speaking to a group. Instead, the summit "actively immersed a cross-sector group in the real work of what it takes to listen, understand, dream, argue and create a different outcome for our kids and our community," said Maynard, who organized the event.

"Children come into the world STEM-ready: bright, curious and asking ‘why' questions. To a large extent, it's our job to remove barriers and give them a lift," Melisse May, part of Greater Cincinnati STEM Collaborative leadership, said at the summit.

That work in Greater Cincinnati is ongoing as leaders in education, nonprofit and business sectors work side by side to create a new vision of STEAM (STEM plus the arts) education that includes every student.

Karl Reid of the National Association of Black Engineers contributes to one of the many white boards used at the summit. (Photo provided)

The group's next steps are involving and engaging the broader community and carrying out a social-change agenda, which includes four initiatives that will begin immediately:

  1. Developing STEAM experiences outside the classroom.
  2. Creating informal structures within academia to promote diverse interpretations and networks of support.
  3. Establishing cross-disciplinary classes between arts and hard STEM disciplines.
  4. Diversifying STEAM faculty (in K-20) to include external appointments and representatives.

These plans are intended to reduce some of the barriers of underserved and underrepresented groups to STEM, including a lack of academic preparation, lack of academic and social support, affordability, access and motivation, Maynard said.

"You don't know what you don't know," she said. "Our underserved and underrepresented students need navigators. We need to create robust pathways that truly support our kids."

It's an ambitious agenda, but the partners believe change is possible in Cincinnati. After all, the city is known to some as the birthplace of collective impact.

"Cincinnati is well known for it," said Ramsey Ford, co-founder of Design Impact, a Cincinnati-based nonprofit social-innovation firm made up of designers, community development practitioners, social entrepreneurs and educators. A variety of groups have successfully come together here to create change, he said.

Ford's local nonprofit has been an integral part of the summit and National Science Foundation grant, as have the Greater Cincinnati STEM Collaborative and Strive Partnership (both prime examples of collective impact).

Those successful local partnerships drew the attention of the NSF and helped secure the grant funding for the summit, Maynard said.

"They are effusive about the work we're doing together here," she said.

That's good news, she said, because next steps also include submitting a National Science Foundation Includes Design and Development Launch Pilot proposal of $300,000. UC is one of 100 candidates invited to apply from a pool of 600. The pilot would give the group two years to prove it can create impact and inclusion at scale.

Design Impact's Ramsey Ford, center, checks in on model-making with UC's Ashley Felts and director of the university's Center for Community Engagement Kathy Brown, left, and Clair Pollock, Cincinnati Museum Center. (Photo provided)

If successful, the group could apply in two years for a $12 million award from the foundation to increase diversity and representation in STEM.

"The summit set the stage," she said. "This grant allows us to apply that learning for greater connectedness and impact."