IMG_0083On June 5, the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative hosted 50 STEM education stakeholders including practitioners, funders, policy makers, corporate representatives, civic and cultural institutions higher education, and educations networks at a meeting at the Chicago Community Trust. This meeting featured a presentation by Jan Morrison and Julie Stolzer of the Teaching Institute for STEM Education (TIES), which introduced the attendees to the STEM Funders Network STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative. The STEM Funders Network is a national collaborative of funders who focus on funding STEM programs in order to move the needle in STEM education.

IMG_0009The meeting began with a brief review of work to date by Stephanie Levi, Ph.D., of Project Exploration. Jan and Julie then introduced the STEM Learning Ecosystems opportunity to the group, and throughout the meeting, attendees expressed strong interest in cultivating Chicago’s STEM Learning Ecosystem. Within the context of the meeting, the purpose of a STEM Learning Ecosystem is not to invent something new per se, but to take all of the great things that are happening in all sectors, and support the strategic coordination of those resources to ensure better access for all.

IMG_0029In discussing the scope of the ecosystem, Jan highlighted the importance of “enlightened self-interest,” qualifying the project by making it clear that all stakeholders care about access, quality, and equity in STEM, but that they also need to be realistic about the fact that they need to ensure that they understand what they hope to get out of their participation in the STEM ecosystem, or stakeholders will likely lose interest and momentum. Acknowledging this calls for frank examination and honesty about what all members of the ecosystem need, and developing comfort with the fact that organizations and individuals do need to be realistic about their own self-interest as the ecosystem develops.

IMG_0065After explaining the RFQ itself (see the next post for information about the RFQ), meeting attendees participated in a “round robin” exercise, with each person in the group stating a potential obstacle to Chicago’s STEM Learning Ecosystem’s success. Next, Jan and Julie led meeting attendees through an activity to help the group contemplate their idea of the vision and mission of Chicago’s STEM learning ecosystem. Attendees worked in groups to create an imaginary headline in the Chicago Tribune that summarized the future accomplishment of Chicago’s STEM Learning Ecosystem as though it had already occurred. Groups’ headlines ranged from “Every student in Chicago is STEM literate” to “Chicago leads the nation and the world in STEM workforce development.” The activity was informative, thoughtful, and most agreed they had not seen meeting attendees laughing so often and so hard during any other meeting that they had attended.

The work will continue, with a call to explain the RFQ process to anyone who is interested on June 15, 2015, followed by working meetings every Friday until the RFQ is due on July 31, 2015.  Please email Stephanie (  if you’d like to join us.