The Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative began in 2011 as a community-based effort in which stakeholders from across Chicago’s youth development and funder communities wrestled with critical questions about access and equity in STEM out-of-school time (OST) programming: Who is being served and who is not? How many opportunities are available, where and when, and what content is being offered? How can organizations cooperate to keep young people involved with STEM? To help answer these critical questions, this leadership team launched a city-wide survey in 2012 to understand the landscape of STEM OST opportunities for high school youth. 

The findings from the year‐long study were presented at the State of STEM in Out‐of‐School Time in Chicago Conference in December 2012 with support from Chicago HIVE Learning Network, Motorola Mobility Foundation, After School Matters, and the Illinois Institute of TechnologyThe data and findings from the survey revealed several important Chicago-specific trends:

  • Many STEM learning opportunities exist: In 2011, more than 2,000 STEM OST programs were run by more than 500 organizations, serving more than 88,000 students. Most were focused on science or math, with less than 1% focused on engineering.
  • Access is unequal: Students from communities traditionally underrepresented in the sciences participated at lower than expected rates and there were fewer STEM opportunities in certain neighborhoods, including predominantly Latino communities.
  • Timing & location might be a problem: Most of the programs occurred during the school year and were located on-site at schools rather than throughout neighborhoods.

The issues described above are compounded by low graduation rates and a lack of engagement in STEM among Chicago Public School (CPS) students. Cook County, in which Chicago is located, is projected to have approximately 450,000 STEM jobs by 2018, 63% of which will require at least an Associate’s Degree. However, data show that less than 5% of all graduating seniors from CPS ultimately complete a college STEM degree.

In 2013, the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative produced the State of STEM in Out-of-School Time in Chicago Report, providing a set of data-informed recommendations and an action plan to enable diverse young people to get, and stay, involved with STEM experiences from kindergarten through college. The report was supported by the Noyce Foundation and the Chicago Foundation for Women.

In response to these data, the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative was formed, with Project Exploration serving as the backbone organization to this collective effort. In 2015, the Cooperative was selected to join the STEM Funders’ Network STEM Learning Ecosystems initiative, an effort aimed at galvanizing cities across the U.S. that are building STEM learning ecosystems. Currently 37 STEM Learning Ecosystems exist, placing the STEM Co-op in a nationwide network of cities and organizations committed to expanding STEM learning and workforce opportunities.

Today, the STEM Co-op is a collaborative effort aimed at addressing inequities in the STEM learning landscape for all youth along the learning continuum, early childhood to career. Its work is guided by the premise that access to high-quality, in-school and out-of-school STEM experiences can provide a strong foundation for success in adulthood and support civic, college, and work readiness (Banks et al., 2007; Bevan et al., 2010; Fenichel & Schweingruber, 2010; Krishnamurthi et al., 2014; National Research Council, 2009; National Research Council, 2015). The STEM Co-op represents sectors throughout the city, including civic institutions, OST program providers, Chicago Public Schools, colleges and universities, STEM corporation and business industry leaders, funders, government entities, and existing learning networks.