On September 26, 2016, the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative held its third city-wide convening of the year, bringing together individuals and organizations from across the city’s STEM learning landscape.

The guiding question for the September and previous convenings has been: What can an ecosystem do for us and our students that we cannot do as individual professionals and organizations? It’s a critical question, forcing us to think about the ways in which cross-sector stakeholders (such as funders, city agencies, cultural & civic institutions, community-based organizations, nonprofits, schools, and others) are interacting to provide the most accessible, robust, and continuous network of STEM learning opportunities for our youth. It challenges us to think about the learning lifespan of the learner from preK – college, as well as the different ways and places where learning takes place.


What have we learned from asking this question? Here is a quick snapshot of our past two convenings:

  • In April, our first convening of the year took place at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. We self-organized into working groups to look at three large issues that impact our city’s STEM learning landscape: professional development, evaluation & metrics, and Demonstration Communities (micro-ecosystems in Chicago that are building a network of STEM learning at the neighborhood level).
  • In June, we convened at After School Matters, and took a deep dive into the guiding question through cross-sector discussion. A number of themes emerged through the conversation, such as the need for stronger partnerships, leveraging youth & family voice, and creating common language around quality.

At our third convening at Center for College Access and Success (CCAS) at Northeastern Illinois University, we began to provide some shared language for our work. Dr. Judy Lubin, an economics expert helped us answer some important questions: What exactly is an ecosystem? What are some examples and how do organizations interact with one another in an ecosystem, even when they might be perceived as “competitors?” Her presentation can be found here.

The convenings have also become a platform to highlight some of the cross-sector STEM learning work happening across the city. In June, we profiled organizations that are providing quality STEM learning experiences to youth in a variety of different settings (schools, out-of-school time, and work-based learning experiences):

In September, we profiled the work of three organizations that are making an impact in professional development, strengthening the learning opportunities for STEM professionals:

A full synopsis of the Co-op’s work over the past year, as well as detail on all the working groups, can be found in the newly released End of Year Report.

What’s Next?

Assessing STEM Learning Opportunities in Chicago: First, we want to learn what the STEM learning landscape actually looks like in our city. What are the existing opportunities? What’s missing? Where are the gaps in neighborhoods and for different audiences? Where are the gaps in funding investments? The Co-op is re-launching its STEM Landscape Survey, which was originally administered in 2012. The trends that emerged from the original survey are detailed here and we expect to learn how the landscape has changed through the new survey.

Building Common Language: The work that we are doing collectively is challenging and requires all of our voices at the table, including youth and parents. Developing shared language will be needed to address challenges and propose solutions, particularly because our approach to the issue of expanding STEM learning can be sector-specific. On October 13, 2016, the STEM Co-op will host a workshop RSVP here to build common language, utilizing the themes that emerged from the June convening.

Strategic Planning: In order to make real progress towards common goals, the STEM Co-op will engage in a deep strategic planning period, supported by IBM. These strategy sessions will help us set priorities for the coming year and focus our resources towards a shared vision.