Aug 10 2015 US2020 uses national and local cross-sector approaches to provide students with STEM mentors
The idea for US2020, an organization working to provide STEM mentors to underserved children across the United States, came from a White House call in 2013 to generate solutions to our nation’s science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education challenges. Launched as a partnership among ten leading education non-profits and technology companies, US2020 emerged as a key component of President Obama’s Educate to Innovate campaign to inspire more students to excel in STEM subjects. US2020 plans to match 1 million skilled STEM mentors with students from kindergarten through college by 2020 — a challenging goal that requires the organization to leverage its existing cross-sector partnerships and foster new collaborations on a local level in order to succeed.
By 2022, the United States will need more than 9 million STEM professionals to fill projected job openings, a number the country is not on pace to produce. Also, there is a pronounced lack of racial and gender diversity among STEM professionals — 74 percent of the STEM workforce is male and 85 percent identify as either white or Asian. US2020 is attempting to address these issues with a large-scale mentoring model, increasing the number of STEM professionals mentoring and teaching students through hands-on projects, with a focus on girls, underrepresented minorities, and low-income children.
By 2022, the United States will need more than 9 million STEM professionals to fill projected job openings, a number the country is not on pace to produce.
While US2020 is a national initiative, it also provides support to ten local, city-based programs through its City Network. Each of these cities’ STEM programs was chosen through the City Competition, where public/private coalitions from 52 cities applied, with the involvement of close to 600 local companies and civic organizations. These local programs rely heavily on intersector support, with help from mayor’s offices, school districts, corporations, community-based organizations, funders, and more. According to the US2020 website, these local initiatives are “experimenting with new strategies for increased impact, pioneering learning communities to accelerate each other’s work, and feeding a national groundswell of momentum around STEM mentoring.”
STEMpact2020 in Wichita, Kansas, for example, had an enthusiastic response from a diverse group of partners, including youth-serving non-profits and local industries seeking to contribute to the collective goal of helping their city’s children excel in STEM. “Our aim is to use connections within the guiding coalition to significantly increase the supply of volunteers and mentors in the STEM community,” explains the local initiative’s website. “We are planning to work with youth-serving organizations to leverage their expertise to ensure that our volunteers can have real impact and inspire the next generation of students.”
In Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, the collaboration that received one of the US2020 City Network grants is attempting to make use of the resources from the 170 companies involved in scientific advancement and three universities in the area. The collaboration invited leaders across the business, non-profit, and education sectors and welcomed an impressive turnout, bringing together stakeholders with similar interests and goals. According to the Research Triangle Park Foundation website, “The room was packed with many people meeting for the first time, even though everyone in the room was engaged in similar work. The possibilities for cross-fertilization of ideas and the opportunity to create deep and meaningful synergy in the three county area surrounding the RTP has inspired a deeply committed group of leaders to engage on a regular basis, a first for the area.”
“The possibilities for cross-fertilization of ideas and the opportunity to create deep and meaningful synergy in the three county area surrounding the RTP has inspired a deeply committed group of leaders to engage on a regular basis, a first for the area.”
It makes sense that collaborative approaches have been popular in addressing STEM education in the United States, as it’s an issue that affects individuals and organizations across sectors. Businesses will increasingly need to rely on a workforce skilled in STEM subjects, but that trend is not siloed to a single sector. As the public sector is facing an increasing demand for more citizen-facing technology and access to information, it’s relying more and more on tech innovators to help them transform into a more data-driven entity. And with increasing incidence of cyber attacks on both public and private entities in the United States, the U.S. Army reserve launched Cyber P3, a cross-sector initiative whose aim is to educate and train a group of “cyber warriors.” “The demand for these cyber security professionals and cyber experienced soldiers far outpaces the current inventory,” explains Chief of Army Reserve Lt. Gen. Jeffrey W. Talley.
The US2020 collaboratives, both national and local, are heartening examples of progress in this area. Another successful STEM collaboration — one that has received praise from President Obama and others — is the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), profiled in our case library, which brought together IBM, the New York City Department of Education, and City Tech at the City University of New York (CUNY) to create a school that equips students with the qualifications needed to compete for high-growth jobs in information technology. Like US2020, P-TECH incorporates mentoring into STEM education, pairing students with corporate mentors from IBM. P-TECH welcomed its first class in 2011, and while it’s still to early to gauge the long-term success of P-TECH’s graduates, the initial data is heartening and the early college model is being replicated in cities across the United States.