Imagine a curious preschool-aged girl being told not to dig in dirt so her dress will stay clean. Her older sister, working on an experiment, is told to hand off a power tool to a boy instead.
As a girl grows up from a curious preschooler into an inquisitive teenager, she’ll receive subtle—and not-so-subtle—messages that can discourage her from sticking with her math and science studies or pursuing a career in technology and engineering.
Similar vignettes play out every day in the lives of girls and other minority groups who are underrepresented in the high-paying, high-potential industries of science, technology, engineering and math—otherwise known as STEM, according to Alana Kulesa, director of strategic initiatives at the Carnegie Science Center.
“That’s exactly the opposite of what we’re trying to do,” Kulesa says. “We’re trying to give explicit direction to help guide young women and everybody who has an interest in math and science.”
STEM education is a national priority, but it’s especially relevant in the Pittsburgh region, Kulesa notes. Local leaders are counting on industries like biotechnology, information technology, robotics, advanced materials processes, environmental technology and nanotechnology to keep the region sustainable, both environmentally and economically.
Since 2011, the Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Developmenthas worked with students, teachers and the Pittsburgh community to increase success and achievement in schools. Located in the Carnegie Science Center, Chevron’s STEM efforts work to inspire students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade with experiences in science and technology, explains Susan Zimecki, director of marketing at Carnegie Science Center.
By getting children excited about science and technology, Zimecki says the center’s programming will help develop the next generation’s STEM workforce.
“We know there’s a growing, burgeoning need nationally and locally for these skills,” she says, adding that the center also endeavors to bring STEM education to the general population. “And, whether or not they pursue STEM careers, they need to be literate in science, if not fluent, so they can make good decisions in their everyday lives.”
The programming created by the Chevron STEM center focuses on informal science education, intended to complement lessons learned in school. A 2009 study by the National Research Council confirms that students can grasp concepts faster and more easily when they are exposed to informal science education.
And no matter what grade level or school district, the Chevron STEM Center has something for everyone.
Tour Your Future
Through the Tour Your Future mentorship program, students visit businesses such as FedEx to better understand career possibilities in STEM fields. Girls ages 11 to 17 can meet female professionals who introduce them to diverse professions—from avian zoologists to accountants, software engineers to surgeons—in their workplace.
This two-to three-day science fair for students in fifth through 12th grade happens twice a year in March and November. The hands-on event connects students with leading scientists and technologists through cutting-edge workshops that focus on bioengineering, robotics, 3D printing and design, and DNA & CSI.
Future City enlists teams of middle-school students to create a metropolis for tomorrow by writing an essay, designing with SimCity, and then building a scale model. After working with a local volunteer engineer, the teams present their cities to a panel of judges made up of professional engineers.
This online directory details all of the STEM-related programming in the region for preschoolers through high school seniors, including summer camps, scientific journals and resources for teachers. Launched in April, this user-friendly tool connects families with every imaginable STEM-related activity happening outside of school. Students, teachers and families can search by keyword, and then further filter their results by age and region.
Science on the Road
The Carnegie Science Center flips the idea of a traditional field trip by bringing interactive assemblies and hands-on activities into schools, custom-made for each grade level. The upcoming Science of Baseball program, funded by Chevron and Pirates Charities, will debut its Pirates-themed experience in schools in spring 2015. In the meantime, catch the Chevron-sponsored science question on the JumboTron at PNC Park during this season’s Pirates games.
Math + Science = Success
Launched in 2012, this public awareness campaign broadcasts messages about the importance of math and science for all students throughout the WTAE-TV viewing area. Market research conducted earlier this year will gauge the success of the messaging in reaching the general public.
STEM Education Pathway
Funded by the Heinz Endowments, this self-evaluation tool lets school districts identify the STEM priorities that they need to address.
Connecting theories learned in the classroom with the challenges facing the real world, the Chevron-sponsored RiverQuest lets students put their biology and earth sciences lessons into practice during boating expeditions on Pittsburgh’s three rivers. Founded in 1991 by a group of parents who wanted to use the rivers as an experiential classroom, RiverQuest is designed to promote awareness of the river ecosystems.
Educators are recognizing the importance that arts and creativity have in the learning process for STEM subjects. Shorthand for science, technology, arts, engineering and mathematics, STEAM education is making its way into classrooms and kids’ out-of-school experiences.
Launching this July, these week-long day camps give students in first through sixth grade a chance to try out ice-cream making, 3D printing, and new ideas for science projects. Assemble, a community space for art and technology in Garfield, guide students in hands-on projects and experimentation in science, technology, engineering, art and math.
Teens as Teachers
Another Assemble program, Teens as Teachers offers weekly workshops for students to learn how to create sustainable STEAM programming. While learning leadership and technical skills, the students will serve as mentors, bringing STEAM programming to their schools and communities.
Intersections Science and Literacy Project
Combining formal and informal science and literacy learning, this project encourages middle- and high-school students to create a video that explores how STEAM is relevant to them personally.
In addition to the partnership with the Carnegie Science Center, Chevron is exploring options for bringing STEM education to southwestern Pennsylvania’s most rural areas, and is commissioning a study to understand the perception of STEM in those areas, says Mary Murrin, social investment team lead at Chevron.
This article is part of the Learning Innovation initiative, a multi-media partnership between NEXTpittsburgh and WQED Multimedia, Pittsburgh Magazine and WESA. Click to see their stories on Learning innovation in Pittsburgh.