The National STEM Learning Ecosystem Community of Practice Convening

The STEM Learning Ecosystems National Community of Practice Convening was held jointly with U.S. News STEM Solutions on April 4-6, 2018 in Washington, DC. The Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative is Chicago’s STEM Ecosystem.  This conference brought representatives from 56 STEM Learning Ecosystems from across the country.  The joining U.S. News STEM Solutions Workforce of Tomorrow is a conference for leaders across multiple industries that bring their key insights, innovative strategies, and best practices who are committed to examining the complexities of developing a workforce skilled in STEM. The Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative sent four members to a attend this convening. They are eager to share the information they learned.

Hear from Chicago’s STEM Ecosystem VISTA Worker

Cachetta Potts, Chicago STEM Co-op’s VISTA Worker from the National STEM Learning Ecosystems shares her experience.

“When I landed in D.C. on April 2nd, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Nonetheless, I entered with an open mind ready for dialogue… I thought to myself, “I can’t believe I get to say the phrase, ‘I’m in D.C. for a work conference.’” I have taken a leave of absence from my job with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and am mostly a writer and poet by trade, but I am currently working in the nonprofit sector for the awesome organization, Project Exploration. It’s my first time volunteering through AmeriCorps, or “domestic Peace Corps,” so parts of me felt anxious. Still, I knew I wanted to be there for whatever this would be. I’m very glad I was able to attend the STEM Ecosystems Community of Practice Convening and U.S. News Conference.

I didn’t have a roommate but I was able to meet some amazing people—especially those who are fellow Volunteers in Service to America (VISTAs). I introduced myself, connected with, and socialized, even, amongst some of the most brilliant, passionate, and purpose-driven people I have ever met. Although the purpose of the convening seemingly was getting lost  throughout its course, I was still able to get some much needed information and share the small bits of knowledge I had about what’s working for Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative, or the STEM Co-op, which is the STEM Learning Ecosystem here in Chicago, and how we can possibly search through the elements of other states and ecosystems and what works for them that may be transferable to Chicago’s STEM Co-op.

STEM Learning Ecosystems, including Chicago’s STEM Co-op, provide the architecture for cross-sector learning, offering all young people access to STEM-rich learning environments so they can develop important skills and engagement in science, technology, engineering and math throughout preK-16.  Strong STEM Learning Ecosystems feature dynamic collaborations among schools, out-of-school time programs, STEM expert institutions (such as museums, science centers, institutions of higher education and STEM professional associations), the private sector, community-based organizations, youth and families. With that said, returning back to the convening, reflecting upon my notes, a common thread emerged. Oftentimes, the audiences we’re hoping to impact are brought in late or missing from the conversation when the decision-making processes are happening.

The event exceeded my expectations, at least on one level. My biggest takeaway was regarding the implementation of Chief Science Officers (CSOs), which are elected student officials nominated by other students to be their STEM liaisons. This allows organizations that utilize students and youth to always have youth voice and opinions where the youth that we serve will always be considered. I plan to continue to nourish the cultivated business and personal relationships I walked away with, as well.”

Chicago STEM Co-op Represents at the Community of Practice Convening

The Spring 2018 STEM Learning Ecosystem Community of Practice Convening was a 2.5 day event with a host of sessions that promote collaboration from Ecosystem to Ecosystem (E2E Sessions). Three of the sessions were led by Chicago STEM Co-op members. The E2E Session, ‘NSF INCLUDES Grant: Shining a light on the system’ was led by members including Dean Grosshandler of UIC, Natasha Smith-Walker of Project Exploration, and Amy Pratt of Northwestern University, . The E2E Session, ‘Fostering Cross-sector Collaboration’, was also led by Natasha Smith-Walker. Amy Pratt also led ‘E2E Face-to-Face Technical Assistance Conversations: Higher Education Station’. 

The Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative is glad to have participated in this Community of Practice and look forward to the Fall convening in California!