Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative Summer 2018 Convening

Leaders, members, and partners from across the Chicago-land area gathered at the Columbus Park Refectory for the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative (STEM Co-op) 2018 Summer Convening

Convening stakeholders in Chicago’s STEM ecosystem

Leaders, members, and partners from across the Chicago-land area gathered at the Columbus Park Refectory for the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative (STEM Co-op) 2018 Summer Convening on Tuesday, July 17, 2018, from 7:30 AM to 10:30 AM. It began with a hearty breakfast and some smooth acoustic sounds from the grand piano played by Dean Grosshandler, Research Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The STEM Co-op continues to work to develop an approach to implement STEM learning for all Chicago children and youth in and out of school. Bernice (Bea) Billups, Senior Manager, Global Corporate Citizenship for Boeing provided an overview of the Fall 2017 Convening, which included an overview of Chicago Public Schools three strategic priorities; Exemplary Practices in STEM Schools, Chicago STEM Community, and Targeted Professional Development. The fall convening also provided an opportunity to present the updated STEM Co-op mission.

Where are we going?

A strategy to activate the STEM Co-op mission is to collaborate via affinity groups to build trust, drive common motivation, and develop a shared language and shared understanding of assets and opportunities within the ecosystem. Rather than working groups, Affinity Group will bring together partners around themes and questions organically emerging from the current work of partners in the STEM ecosystem. At the beginning of February 2018, a nine-question scaled survey “Prioritization of Affinity Group Topics” was disseminated to STEM Co-op members. This year, the STEM Co-op will launch and support a series of Affinity Groups, bringing members together around critical areas in STEM education. The purpose of the survey was to gather voice and choice from STEM Co-op members and determine priorities and identify which topics STEM Co-op members would tackle and address through Affinity Groups this year. With the convening bringing together a certain level of attention to detail about what is indeed happening in our communities, we are looking forward to fewer fragments after that establishing an environment conducive to meaningful and productive interactions.

Prioritization of Affinity Group Topics

Over 50 individuals responded with their opinions on which topics they consider high, medium and low priority topics. There was also an option to categorize issues that were more suited to address through a mini-symposium instead of a long-term conversation. The following chart details the responses. Based on the Prioritization Survey, three topics were selected to focus on for the upcoming year; Early Childhood in STEM Education, Connecting In- and Out- of School STEM Learning, and Professional Development in Informal STEM.  Also, meetings will be held to look at Makespaces with a goal to host a Makerspace Symposium.

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Affinity Group Structure

Beth Crownover, Director of Learning for the Field Museum, provided an overview of how Affinity Groups would function addressing process, membership, and operations.


  • Phase 1: Knowledge-Building: Understand what strengths already exist in Chicago’s STEM landscape in the context of each particular Affinity Group topic
  • Phase 2: Develop a living history of the decision making and process of the Affinity Group as well as conduct a gap analysis specific to the topic of the Affinity Group.
  • Phase 3: Action planning and communication


  • Tier 1 Roles: STEM Co-op Affinity Group Leadership
    • STEM Lead Support: Self-selected or appointed STEM Co-op Leadership Team member
    • Co-Leads (2): General STEM Co-op membership
  • Tier 2 Roles:
    • Tier 1 members + 8-10 Action Committee Members
  • Tier 3 Roles:
    • Tier 2 members + Direct impacts: 30-40 members
  • Tier 4 Roles:
    • Tier 3 members + all members of greater STEM Co-op


  • Each of the Affinity Groups is united in shared values of communication and dissemination. The process and outcomes of the work the Affinity Groups will be shared locally and relevant information will be shared nationally throughout the National STEM Learning Ecosystems.
  • Family and community engagement

Introductions to Affinity Groups

Early Childhood STEM Education (ECE)

The ECE Affinity Group is lead by Leslie Layman, Child Development Coordinator, and Adjunct Faculty at City Colleges of Chicago – Harry S. Truman College and Tamara Kaldor, Associate Director of the TEC Center at Erikson Institute. During the Convening Leslie led a discussion, and the following provides a summary.

  • There are two open meetings for Early Childhood STEM Education stakeholders and the Affinity Group we encourage you to invite anyone you think might be interested and to share about the meetings widely. We would like as many voices at the table as possible.
  • We need to define what ECE means to this group.
  • We need to create a landscape survey to find out what is happening in ECE STEM and to identify strengths and gaps in service.
  • We must discuss how to go beyond competing for resources to collaboration.
  • We will create an ECE STEM stakeholder contact sheet that people can add names and contacts too (could the coop leadership support with this please, and I will send a list of agencies/CBOs/etc. that we brainstormed?).
  • We would like to have a STEM Pathways Map or guide with searchable layers, one of which would be ECE services
  • We are excited about getting involved in ReMake Learning
  • We need to address how to reach private ECE centers

Join the first ECE Affinity Group Meeting.

Connecting In- and Out-of-School STEM Learning

The Connecting In- and Out-of-School STEM Learning Affinity Group is lead by Michelle Rabkin, Senior Director of Education at the Chicago Academy of Sciences and Sybil Madison-Boyd, Research Associate Research Associate & Director, Chicago City of Learning. Also, Lara Smetana, Associate Professor of Sciences at Loyola University will co-lead. During the Convening Sybil led a discussion, and the following provides a summary.

  • Good people interested in connecting in-school and out-of-school learning identified the things that they would most like the Co-Op to accomplish in the next year or so.  
  • After intimate sharing of ideas in groups of three, the ideas that emerged and converged included:
    • a) identifying out-of-school learning opportunities through maps and directories
    • b) strengthening partnerships with teachers as both advocates for student engagement and connectors of out-of-school learning to in-school learning
    • c) pursuing concrete ways to link out-of-school learning through a real-world application that connects back to school and standards alignment.
  • Strategies that emerged included:
    • a) connecting to CPS’ personalized learning efforts
    • b) targeting a set of schools with whom to develop and “proof point” around connecting in-school and out-of-school
    • c) partnering with schools to connect teachers and families to post-secondary opportunities.

Professional Development in Informal STEM Affinity Group

The Professional Development in Informal STEM Affinity Group is lead by Meridith Brouzas, Manager of Educational Programs and Outreach for Argonne National Laboratory and Jessica Dietzel, Outreach Lead for Argonne National Laboratory.  Neither was able to attend the convening. More to come!

Introducing Remake Learning Days

Sana Jafri, from Chicago Learning Exchange (CLX), introduced Remake Learning Days a week-long initiative hosted in Pittsburgh that celebrates activities and events showcasing innovation in teaching and learning. CLX is proposing to bring Remake Learning Days to the Chicago area. 

US2020 Overview

Dean Grosshandler updated the Co-op with the status of the US2020 STEM Challenge submission.  Project Exploration was selected as a recipient and will tackle two areas of STEM equity in Chicago.

  1. Access to STEM professionals who can serve as role models and mentors, and
  2. Access to high-quality maker-based learning opportunities.

Both things that the existing STEM Ecosystem in Chicago already does well.  Many of our STEM organizations, institutions, and schools bring STEM professionals to students as an opportunity to expand career awareness and do engaging activities. Chicago is also well-known for its maker-based learning initiatives, from pop-ups to maker-spaces, exhibits, and, of course, the Maker Faire.

This opportunity will afford us the ability to accomplish a few things over the two-year opportunity:

  • Build out a set of resources and training to support organizations in engaging STEM professionals. We plan to build off the Project Exploration Scientist Toolkit, which we use to train STEM professionals in youth outreach.
  • Convene a mini-symposium about equity in Making in Chicago.

Over the next two years, we are convening two Affinity Groups to work on these two things. Today, we are going to launch the Affinity Group for the Maker-Based Learning

Maker-Based Learning Affinity Group

The Maker-Based Learning discussion was lead by Amy Pratt, Associate Director at Northwestern University – Office of STEM Education Partnerships (OSEP) and Dean Grosshandler, Research Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

During the Convening Amy and Dean led a discussion and the following provides a summary.

  • Group charge: Continue the conversation around Makerspaces that got started at the Maker meeting hosted by After School Matters in December  2017, at the Lutz Center, and find a venue and date for a mini-symposium.
  • Group members: Bob Johnson, engineer; Amy Pratt, Northwestern University; Edie Dobrez, Homewood Science Center; Robin Willard, Chicago Public Library; Dean Grosshandler, the University of Illinois at Chicago
  • The group started with introductions. Edie described her work at the Homewood Science Center, located in south suburban Chicago. Dean urged everyone to visit — he’s been there several times and thinks it’s a model of a STEM education center that serves its community very well.
  • Bob has been doing STEM outreach for 30 years. He’s a retired structural engineer and has been trying to remedy the absence of engineers in STEM outreach for many years, through the dissemination of materials and event notices as well as participation in many Chicago-area STEM education activities.
  • Robin told us about her work with the Chicago Public Library Teen Services, which has been snowballing and should reach almost 40 of the 80 CPL locations by the end of 2018. She was here with several other CPL team members. 
  • Amy talked about her work at Northwestern, and in particular about the latest efforts there in Maker education, including work bridging learning in-school and out, and research with the goal of maximizing learning in Makerspaces. She also described the strong focus at NU on equity in both research and programmatic efforts. 
  • Amy also quickly solved our group’s primary task by offering to include a Makerspace track in the 9th Annual NU STEM Summit, to be held on October 24, 2018, on NU’s Evanston campus. This summit, sponsored by Motorola, offers CEUs for teachers, covers in-school and out-of-school STEAM learning, and can accommodate about 250 attendees. Dean said he attended last year’s summit and found it very helpful for his work and that the other attendees he spoke with found it very useful as well.
  • The group thought this a generous offer that was perfectly matched to the goals and thanked Amy and her team at NU as well as Motorola for making this possible.

Goals for the upcoming year!

  • Fall Convening 2018 and Summer Convening 2019
  • Quarterly Leadership Team Meetings
  • Minimum of 4 Affinity Group Meetings
  • MakerSpace Symposium


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