STEM Forum: Building a Community Coalition
Northern Maryland is a major national hub for research and development activities. Federal laboratories and industry focus on creating new technological solutions for the defense, health, and manufacturing sectors. In order for the region to continue to grow, a strong STEM workforce must be available, and students graduating from the region’s two school districts and community colleges must be STEM-ready. Noting that nationally U.S. student performance in STEM subjects continues to lag behind that of students in other countries, leaders in northern Maryland from the education, industry, academia, and government sectors decided to work together to increase student participation and performance in STEM subjects across the region.
Organizations in these sectors make significant investments in education programs already, but efforts in the past were disconnected. Community leaders wondered if organizations in the region could join forces, develop a common vision, and move the needle faster by coordinating efforts.
Profile Partners first worked with the founding organizations – SMART States, Northeastern Maryland Technology Council, and Aberdeen Proving Ground – to establish a steering committee for this as yet unnamed effort. Profile Partners worked with the steering committee to articulate the mission and focus of the initiative, and develop a volunteer infrastructure to do the work.
The steering committee established quarterly “STEM Summit” meetings, which brought together 100+ leaders from the community to discuss important STEM topics. These STEM Summits had multiple functions:
- Share information about STEM programs and resources
- Create a forum for community dialogue about STEM challenges and opportunities in the region, and employ problem-solving techniques
- Provide accountability and support structure for volunteer work committees
Profile Partners facilitated each of the volunteer work committees, supporting each committee until it functioned independently or completed its work. This involved coaching leaders, developing strategies and work plans, and supporting the execution of the work.
Once the infrastructure was in place and its mission and focus was clear, Profile Partners worked with the steering committee to establish a name for the initiative, a branding strategy, and a framework for community engagement and fundraising. And the STEM Forum was born.
The STEM Forum fills three important roles in community of northeastern Maryland:
- Convenes leaders from education, government, industry, and non-profits, to examine important issues in STEM education. This happens formally through the STEM Summit meetings, and informally by building relationships between schools and community resources.
- Serves as the region’s information clearinghouse and promotes educational priorities. We developed a web site at stemforum.org that serves teachers, students, and parents with information on STEM programs.
- Develops and underwrites programs that expand opportunities in STEM for teachers and students. We developed a STEM Night program that engages students in grades 3-8, and helped launch many STEM afterschool programs.
So far, the STEM Forum has convened over 50 collaborative sessions involving thousands of participants, featured more than 30 prominent speakers from local, state, and national organizations, served thousands of students with STEM programs, supported over 80 teachers, and recruited more than 50 new STEM volunteers.