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Winter 2009

Impacting, empowering, and educating communities to the betterment of lives and futures.

Why Michigan should be the center for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) innovation, but isnt.
By Jenny Hutchinson, Executive Director of Sistahs Reachin Out (SRO) and K -12 STEM Education consultant

f you have lived in Michigan for any length of time, you are aware of the legislatures pursuit of technology -

driven industry to support the states teetering economy. From the production of turbine engines in Manistee to power acreages of wind farms to the creation of new embryonic lines to support stem cell research in Ann Arbor, the state of Michigan is on the frontier of emerging scientific innovation. Or so it would seem. While industry and academia are forging a technological renaissance within the state, the reality is these forays are occurring in small, industrial centers of R&D, and even smaller university laboratories. Though opportunity is ripe for Michigan to become the leading state in the union for the development and promotion of a model plan for the comprehensive propelling of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (commonly referred to as STEM), the state and its major players are failing to capitalize on those promising practices that can ensure the best possible future for Michigan. If Michigan hopes to achieve and sustain an economic future that casts off its manufacturing past for an innovative, technology and science-based foundation1, state government, industry, colleges and universities, and foundations must do away with siloic approaches to boosting participation in STEM fields that have produced investments only in industry and universities. To secure the states economic future, signi ficant and impactful investments must be made in K-12 and vocational education that 1) bridge the academic gap between secondary and post-secondary STEM education, 2) create practical relationships between STEM industry and K-12 STEM education, and 3) support the facilitation of STEM initiatives through community partnerships. Bridging the academic gap between secondary and post-secondary STEM education Despite what some might like to believe, it is not solely the responsibility of school teachers to instruct, engage, and inspire students, particularly when it comes to STEM education. Yet, in ensuring that Michigans graduating high school students have acquired an adequate level of content knowledge and technical skills to enter and succeed in post-secondary STEM studies, elementary and secondary educators are increasingly maneuvered into the position of accomplishing this goal alone 2. However, the task of preparing students for the transition from secondary to post-secondary studies mandates a proportional input of work from individuals not indigenous to the four-walled ecosystem of a classroom. Traditionally, tutors and parents have subsidized students academic readiness. However, where parent, tutor, and even teacher impact ends in bridging the academic gap between secondary and post-secondary STEM education, there is an opportunity for industry and academic practitioners. That opportunity is in providing human and cultural capital to both K-12 and Voc Ed students. By investing human capital in support of students scholarship in science, technolog y, engineering, and mathematics, practitioners lend support to both students and classroom teachers in very distinctive ways.

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For aspiring student scientists, technicians and mathematicians, practitioners are viewed as role models, imparting a sense of can do especially for female and minority students who are less likely to pursue STEM studies in college3. Moreover, for tenured instructors whose commitment to impart the necessity for strong aptitude in science and math typically goes unsung, they are shown how their efforts are relevant and their impact on students STEM experience can extend beyond high school. Cultural capital, or shared educational and intellectual experiences, lends itself to the human capital industry and academic STEM practitioners bring to K-12 and vocational education. By participating in K-12 and vocational education, industry and academic STEM practitioners inform students perceptions of their place in STEM fields. As research shows, students perceptions about themselves and t heir academic ability is a critical indicator of the field of study students will pursue in post-secondary education4. Equally as important, practitioners actively engaged with student learners create a community of discovery, exploration, and experimentation as details of salient scientific research and projects are shared. In a community like this, students gain educational, intellectual, and social wealth in STEM. Moreover, it orients students to requirements of professional technology and science fields and the expectations of college-level STEM studies, effectively bridging the gap between secondary and post-secondary education. Creating practical relationships between STEM industry and K-12 STEM education As a Biochemistry student in high school in the late 80s, my cohort of science majors was selected to visit Dow Chemical headquarters in Midland, Michigan. The day included a lectured tour of the companys various divisions and a presentation of how the labs our group had visited produced such commercial products as Saran Wrap and Styrofoam. Opportunities such as this one, whereby student learners gain a wider view of the STEM pipeline beyond graduation, create practical relationships between STEM industry and K-12 STEM education. Notwithstanding current economic constraints, Michigan industry can make level efforts to connect with K-12 STEM education. Statewide science-based competitions sponsored collaboratively by local engineering, science and technology industry and government entities can serve to identify the states future talent from Marquette to Monroe. State colleges and universities, by committing whole or apportioned research projects and material resources to school laboratories, can establish a ready pool of matriculating STEM scholars from which to recruit into advanced schools of study. Lawmakers passage of legislation to appropriate state dollars to fund a longitudinal STEM exchange hub for students, educators, and practitioners, can yield a galvanizing effect on all stakeholders to tithe into Michigans STEM pipeline. Invariably, these relationships created between STEM industry and K-12 education will encompass not only students and practitioners, but parents, peers, industrial leaders, and academic experts alike, and serve to secure the future of the states economy making Michigan the model for systemic STEM pipeline investments across the US. Supporting the facilitation of STEM initiatives through community partnerships There are many groups involved in the education process and every community has an abundance of untapped educational resources.5 This tenet of Community Education, as prescribed by Eastern Michigan Universitys Dr. Jack Minzey (emeritus), is a hard and fast fact for many students in K-12 and vocational education throughout Michigan. Yet, as the number of afterschool and extracurricular STEM initiatives coordinated by community-based groups grows, the level of supportmore particularly, fundingfor these efforts lag. However, with the help of Michigans untapped educational resources, namely public and private foundations, the work these programs currently do in silos can become incubators for developing immense STEM talent among traditional, as well as non-traditional, student populations. As it relates to foundations in Michigan, the descriptive of abundance is extremely apropos. Michigan is the base for four of the countrys most prolific foundations. In addition, the state boasts a number of highly

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visible corporate funds with giving priorities that support community and national efforts ranging from ensuring the well-being of children to scholarships for disadvantaged students. Unfortunately, not one of these grantmakers has published funding guidelines that commit support to the furtherance of K-12 STEM education in Michigan through community partnerships. A 2004 report from the Coalition for Science After School found out-of-school programs are optimal for providing engaging and practical explorations of science and technology that support, as well as build upon, knowledge gained by students in the classroom. One such program was KLICK!, Kids Learning in Computer Klubhouses. Founded by a Michigan State University professor and funded by the Kellogg Foundation, KLICK! was an afterschool program that provided access to computers and computer technology training for middle schools students in 10 urban and rural schools. Although no longer in existence, researchers found that through the program students gained more in self-reported experience using computing technology6. One student reportedly developed and maintained his communitys 911 website, while another authored the website for her parents Michigan-based business. As evidenced by KLICK!, partnerships between foundations and community-based initiatives for fostering and sustaining K-12 STEM initiatives in Michigan work. More importantly, by producing a stream of talent that feeds into the states STEM pipeline they can garner a return on investment that not only meets program objectives, but also meets the needs of Michigans current and future economies. Implementing these promising practices through investments in K-12 and vocational education to bolster STEM is a matter for Michigan today. To delay will bottleneck the states economic future by forcing emerging industry to relocate or settle where STEM talent is both plenty and proven. In achieving for Michigan what was accomplished over the last three decades for a small valley in northern California, all stakeholders must commit to making investments in the states STEM pipeline a priority. To continue to do otherwise will serve as a colossal failure to capitalize on an opportunity made for Michigan.

Jenny Hutchinson is the former Associate Director of STEM Education for the Louis Stokes Institute for Opportunity in STEM Education at the Council for Opportunity in Education (Washington, D.C.). The Council for Opportunity in Education is one of the leading advocacy organizations for access to post-secondary educational opportunities among low-income, minority students. SRO is a non-profit, community-based organization based in southeast Michigan. SRO promotes preparation for and access to post-secondary education opportunities for at-risk, disadvantaged students in low-income urban and rural communities.

1. Michigan State University, A New Economy for a New Michigan Initiative, 2. Alliance for Excellent Education, High School Teaching for the Twenty-First Century: Preparing Students for College, Issue Brief, September 2007. 3. U.S. Department of Education, Students Who Study Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in Postsecondary Education, Institute of Education Sciences, July 2009. 4. Lent, R.W.; Brown, S. & Larkin, K., Relation of self-efficacy expectations to academic achievement and persistence, Journal of Counseling Psychology, v. 31, Jul. 1984, p. 356-362. 5. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Community Education Basic Beliefs. 6. Zhao, Y.; Girod, M. & Martineau, J., After-school computer clubhouses and at-risk teens, American Secondary Education, v. 32, 2004, p. 63-76.

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