Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative Fall 2017 Convening

CHICAGO STEM PATHWAYS COOPERATIVE FALL 2017 CONVENINGOn Thursday, November 30, approximately 50 stakeholders of Chicago’s STEM learning landscape gathered for the Fall 2017 Convening of the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative (STEM Co-op). The meeting, held at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, provided an opportunity to “reset” as a collective, reflect on the work done so far, and consider how to move forward collectively with input from STEM Co-op members during facilitated discussions. Slides from the presentation can be found here.

Where Have We Been?

Natasha Smith-Walker, Executive Director of Project Exploration, provided background and historical context, with the goal of developing shared understanding for why the STEM Co-op exists.  Project Exploration, a nonprofit science education organization, is the backbone organization to the Cooperative, providing coordination duties, leading grant writing efforts, and supporting infrastructure. Natasha referenced the 2013 State of STEM in Out-of-School Time in Chicago report, which used a data-driven approach to highlight certain inequities and challenges to the STEM learning landscape, particularly for high school youth. As result of these findings, the STEM Co-op began convening out-of-school time (OST) stakeholders for conversations, share outs, and discussions about the STEM learning ecosystem. In 2015, the STEM Co-op joined the inaugural cohort of the National STEM Learning Ecosystems, an initiative of the STEM Funders Network to identify and support cities who are building STEM learning pathways in their communities for youth from cradle to career, through partnerships and programs.

Ultimately, the STEM Co-op developed six priority areas:

  1. Community and Outreach: Engage new stakeholders and build visibility of our work.
  2. Funders Council: Engage funders to provide strategic direction for STEM learning priorities.
  3. Professional Development: Develop strategy to prepare all educators for leading high quality STEM opportunities.
  4. Evaluation and Common Metrics: Build a common outcome framework to measure success for student engagement, progression, and skill development.
  5. Landscape Survey: Re-administer survey to provide a comparative analysis from 2012 to present and collect additional data.
  6. Demonstration Communities: Develop place-based strategy to develop STEM learning pathways at the neighborhood level.

These priority areas were led by working groups, who met a number of times over the past year. The STEM Co-op is grateful to the feedback and investment of the working group leaders and participants. As a result of these meetings, the STEM Co-op held a Funders Meeting in April 2017 and began to engage deeply in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. Over the past year, Project Exploration began cultivating relationships with local stakeholders in the Austin community, holding numerous community conversations to better understand the priorities of the community itself. See our Year 2 report to explore the STEM Co-op’s engagement with the Austin community.

Our Updated Mission and Foundational Language

As part of the “reset” strategy, Beth Crownover, Director of Learning of the Field Museum, and Tony Streit, Managing Project Director at EDC, presented the updated mission of the STEM Co-op. The revised foundational language describes more clearly the work of the STEM Co-op:

Convening stakeholders in Chicago’s STEM ecosystem to address inequities in the STEM learning continuum by facilitating cross-sector knowledge building, collaboration, and collective action.

To read more about our updated mission and foundational language, please read here.

Affinity Groups


One strategy to activate our mission is to collaborate via affinity groups to build trust, drive common motivation, and develop shared language and common understanding of assets and opportunities within the ecosystem. Rather than working groups, where we were being prescriptive, Affinity Group meetings will bring together partners around themes and questions organically emerging from the current work of partners in the STEM ecosystem. Over the past few months, three themes have bubbled up: early childhood STEM, computer science education, and maker education. 

These new Affinity Groups will be member-driven and will be places for:

  • Identifying best practices, in Chicago, nationally, or both.
  • Understanding the pressing challenges as they relate to inequity.
  • Determining what success might look like if we work together to address the topic.

Group Discussions


What kinds of Affinity Groups would STEM Co-op members like to see? Through facilitated discussion, participants identified a range of themes that could potentially develop into member-driven Affinity Groups. New Affinity Groups will be announced in late January/early February 2018. If you have thoughts or recommendations, please share with us!

State of STEM at CPS

We ended the convening with a presentation by the new Executive Director of STEM at Chicago Public School Office of Teaching and Learning, Jessica Mahon. Slides from her presentation can be found here. Jessica outlined the strategic priorities of this new office:

  1. Exemplary practices in schools: Empower and expand the capacity of STEM Specialists, administrators, and teachers to strengthen the instructional core within STEM schools leading to model STEM classrooms and increased student outcomes.
  2. Chicago STEM community: Organize and align the various stakeholders of the Chicagoland STEM community to better provide equitable access to all students with high quality STEM opportunities and learning.
  3. Targeted professional learning” Engage teachers in collaborative, job-embedded professional learning opportunities focused on building STEM content knowledge and building instructional capacity.

The second strategy, in particularly, has deep implications and promise for how the OST community in Chicago and CPS can work together to increase youth and family access to high-quality STEM learning opportunities.

What’s Next?

Please join us at Affinity Groups to move specific pieces of conversation forward. We’ll be sharing updates on Affinity Groups at the beginning of 2018. If you have thoughts and recommendations for Affinity Groups, please write to Jameela at



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